An Introduction to

I(arl Marx
JON ELSTER
CAMBRIDGE
UNIVERSITY PRESS
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© Jon Elster 1986
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CONTENTS
Preface vii
1. Overview 1
Introduction 1
MarK: Life and Writings 5
MarK and Engels 11
MarKism after Marx 12
Editions of Marx's Writings 17
Bibliography 19
2. Marxist Methodology 21
Introduction 21
Methodological Individualism 22
Marxism and Rational Choice 25
Functional Explanation in Marxism 31
Dialectics 34
Bibliography 39
3. Alienation 41
Introduction 41
Alienation: Lack of Self-realization 43
Alienation: Lack of Autonomy 49
Alienation: The Rule of Capital over Labor 54
Fetishism 56
Bibliography 58
4. Marxian Economics 60
Introduction 60
The Labor Theory of Value 63
Reproduction. Accumulation. and Technical Change 70
Crisis Theory 74
Bibliography 78
v
Contents
5. Exploitation 79
Introduction 79
Exploitation, Freedom, and Force 81
Exploitation in History 84
Exploitation and Justice 92
Bibliography 101
6. Historical Materialism 103
Introduction 103
The Development of the Productive Forces 105
Base and Superstructure 112
The Stages of Historical Development 117
Bibliography 121
7. Class Consciousness and Class Struggle 122
Introduction 122
The Concept of Class 123
Class Consciousness 129
Class Struggle 134
Bibliography 139
8. Marx's Theory of Politics 141
Introduction 141
The Capitalist State 143
Politics in the Transition to Capitalism 153
Politics in the Transition to Communism 159
Bibliography 166
9. The Marxist Critique of Ideology 168
Introduction 168
Political Ideologies 173
Economic Thought as Ideology 176
Religion as Ideology 180
Bibliography 184
10. What Is Living and What Is Dead in the
Philosophy of Marx? 186
Introduction 186
What Is Dead? 188
What Is Living? 194
vi
PREFACE
In 1985 I published a lengthy book on Marx, Making Sense of Marx
(Cambridge University Press). The present book is much shorter,
about 25 percent of the first. It has virtually no exegetical discus-
sions of the texts or of the views of other Marxist scholars. The
main intention is simply to state Marx's views and engage in an
argument with them. With two exceptions, there is little here that
is not found, in some place and some form, in the first book. In
Chapter 1, I provide a brief bio-bibliographic survey that is not
included in Making Sense of Marx. In Chapter 3, I offer a discussion
of alienation that goes substantially beyond what was found in the
earlier book. A fuller development of the ideas sketched there is
found in my "Self-realization in work and politics," Social Philoso-
phy and Policy (1986).
A companion volume of selected texts by Marx, organized along
thematic lines corresponding to Chapters 2-9, is published simul-
taneously with this book.
vii
J
I
OVERVIEW
INTRODUCTION
O
NE hundred years after his death, Marx is an enormous pres-
ence among us. On purely quantitative criteria, judged by the
number of his self-avowed followers, he exerts a greater influence
than any of the religious founders or any other political figures. His
doctrine being secular rather than timeless, we would not expect it
to have the staying power of Islam, Christianity, or Buddhism, but
up to now it has shown few signs of waning. It is not difficult to
justify a continued interest in his writings.
The interest may be extrinsic or intrinsic. One may go to Marx to
understand the regimes that have been influenced by him, or to
understand and assess his writings as if he had had no posterity
whatever. Of these, the former requires the latter, but not the other
way around. When a doctrine - be it religious or political - be-
comes an institutional force, it always becomes the object of in-
tense scrutiny in its own right, because the proper interpretation
may be a matter of momentous importance. This is not to say that
all dogmatic controversies are decided on purely internal criteria of
validity or consistency. Many of them owe their resolution to
mundane struggles of power, in which, however, purely textual
arguments serve as one form of ammunition. Although textual
considerations and rational assessment by themselves probably do
not set constraints on the outcome, they may in some cases tip the
balance one way or the other. The student of political processes in
contemporary communist societies will do well, therefore, to
know the texts that form part of the arsenal of debate. Although
Engels and Lenin are the more frequently cited, Marx provides the
final touchstone.
1
Overview
The guiding interest in the present exposition is, however, pure-
ly intrinsic. This will be taken to mean three things. First, it is a
matter of establishing what Marx thought. This task is subject to the
usual principles of textual analysis: to understand each part in the
light of the whole and when in doubt to choose the reading that
makes the texts appear as plausible and as consistent as possible.
In Marx's case the task presents unusual difficulties. For one thing,
the bulk of the corpus consists of unpublished manuscripts and
letters in a very uneven state of completion. Some of them, though
preserved for posterity, are still unpublished, so that no interpreta-
tion can claim to be based on all surviving texts. For another, the
published writings are largely journalistic or agitatorial and as such
are unreliable guides to his considered opinion. There is, more-
over, the problem of ascertaining what was written by Marx and
what by Engels and whether the latter's writings can be used as
evidence for Marx's views. Finally, one must take account of the
fact that Marx's thought changed over time, including both dis-
continuous breaks and more gradual evolution.
We have, in fact, only two published writings that show us
Marx at the height of his theoretical powers: The Eighteenth Bru-
maire of Louis Bonaparte and the first volume of Capital. They make
up approximately one thousand pages, of a corpus of perhaps
thirty thousand. They form, as it were, the fixed point from which
the other writings may be surveyed and guide the choice between
different readings. They do not suffice, however, to eliminate all
ambiguities - among other things because they are far from per-
fectly clear and consistent themselves. Even in his most carefully
written works, Marx's intellectual energy was not matched by a
comparable level of intellectual discipline. His intellectual profile is
a complex blend of relentless search for truth, wishful thinking,
and polemical intent. Between the reality he observed and his
writings, there intervened at least two distorting prisms, first in the
formation of his thought and then in the way he chose to express
it.
The operation of the first kind of bias is most evident in his views
on communist society - whether communism as he conceived it
was at all possible, and whether it would come about in the course
of history. He seems to have proceeded on two implicit assump-
2
Introduction
tions: First, whatever is desirable is feasible; second, whatever is
desirable and feasible is inevitable. The second kind of bias is most
clearly seen in his political writings. There is the bias of compro-
mise, due to the need to reconcile different factions; the bias of
exhortation, arising from the desire to use "the analysis of the
situation" as a means to changing it; and the bias of anticipated
censorship, which operated when he had to disguise or tone down
his views to be allowed to state them at all.
Next, I shall ask whether Marx was right in what he thought on the
numerous issues - historical as well as theoretical - that he con-
fronted. This examination will involve deliberate anachronism, in
the sense that it will draw on facts and theories not available to
Marx. In particular, the exposition of Marx's economic theories will
use language developed much after his death. I shall also have the
occasion to point out that on various factual matters Marx has been
proved wrong by more recent scholarship. In fact, by and large it
will appear that strictly speaking Marx was almost never "right."
His facts were defective by the standards of modem scholarship, his
generalizations reckless and sweeping.
A more interesting question, however, is whether Marx remains
useful for us today. Which of Marx's theories are hopelessly dated
or dead, and which remain a source of new ideas and hypotheses?
To answer this question we must look at the wood, not just at the
trees. As in the somewhat similar case of Freud, we may find that a
theory can be shot through with errors of detail, even have basic
conceptual flaws, yet remain immensely fertile in its overall con-
ception. It is in the nature of the case that such assessments must
be somewhat vague. The Marxian ancestry of a given line of inqui-
ry may not be obvious and is certainly not proven by the claim of
its practitioners to be among his descendants. Yet there exist un-
mistakably Marxian theories of alienation, exploitation, technical
change, class struggle, and ideology that remain viable and vital.
The organizing idea of the exposition, therefore, is to set out
what I believe were Marx's views on the central issues before him,
to assess their validity in the light of the best knowledge available
to us today, and to discuss whether the general conceptions under-
lying them can be useful even when his specific implementation is
flawed. The range of issues covers normative as well as explanato-
3
Overview
ry problems. I take the view that Marxism includes both a specific
conception of the good life and a specific notion of distributive
justice, in addition to a theory of history and an analysis of cap-
italism. The emphasis on normative issues is probably the most
distinctive and controversial feature of the exposition. Most other
commentators affirm that Marx denied the existence of absolute
values, some of them seeing in this a cause for praise and others for
blame.
Can one be a Marxist today? The overriding goal of the exposi-
tion is to help the reader form an answer to this question. Many
would say, both on intellectual and on moral grounds, that it is no
longer possible to be a "Marxist." Many of Marx's most cherished
doctrines have been totally demolished by argument. Others have
been refuted by history, which has shown us that the logical con-
sequence of his political philosophy is an abhorrent social system.
What little remains can be and largely has been absorbed into
mainstream social thought.
Each of these three arguments may be countered. To the ques-
tion whether I am a Marxist, or why, on intellectual grounds, I
would want to call myself a Marxist, I have a well-rehearsed an-
swer: "If, by a Marxist, you mean someone who holds all the
beliefs that Marx himself thought were his most important ideas,
including scientific socialism, the labor theory of value, the theory
of the faIling rate of profit, the unity of theory and practice in
revolutionary struggle, and the utopian vision of a transparent
communist society unconstrained by scarcity, then I am certainly
not a Marxist. But if, by a Marxist, you mean someone who can
trace the ancestry of his most important beliefs back to Marx, then
I am indeed a Marxist. For me this includes, notably, the dialec-
tical method and the theory of alienation, exploitation, and class
struggle, in a suitably revised and generalized form."
Among intellectuals in Eastern Europe, with few exceptions,
"Marxism" is a dirty word. To them it signifies not the liberation
but the oppression of man. The view is encapsulated in Solzhenit-
syn's refusal to meet Sartre in Moscow and memorably argued in
Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism. It is an attitude that com-
mands great respect, but its implications for the understanding of
Marx are somewhat unclear. True, the work of Marx was one of
4
Life and Writings
the causes that led to the Soviet regime; equally true, that regime
justifies itself through Marx, asserting that it is roughly the kind of
regime he wanted to bring about. That assertion is manifestly false.
Yet the real question lies elsewhere. It is whether any attempt to
bring about the kind of regime he wanted necessarily has to em-
ploy means that will in fact bring about something roughly similar
to the Soviet regime. This I deny. Yet I shall also argue that an
attempt to achieve the goal by means of a violent proletarian
revolution will be self-defeating. The revolutionary bid for power
can succeed only under conditions of backwardness that will also
prevent, not only initially but indefinitely, the flowering of the
productive forces that Marx posed as a condition for communism
as he understood it.
It would seem, finally, that Marxism as a body of positive social
theory, concerned with establishing and explaining facts, ought to
disappear if it is bad and also if it is any good. In the latter case its
findings will enter the main body of the historical and social sci-
ences and cease to be specifically "Marxist." The identity and
survival of Marxism is linked, however, to its normative founda-
tion. Because of their adherence to specific, not universally shared
values, Marxist scholars ask different questions. In arguing for
their answers, on the other hand, they have to follow the same
canons of method and reasoning as other scholars. Because of
their values they look for different things to explain, but the logic
of explanation is the same. Their theories will, if plausible, enter
the mainstream of social science if they can also be useful to schol-
ars who ask other questions; and if they cannot it is a good bet that
they are not very plausible.
MARX: LIFE AND WRITINGS
Because of the great variety and diversity of Marx's writings, it is
often useful to know when, under which circumstances, for which
purposes, and for which public they were written. The following
chronological survey of his writings is meant to facilitate the more
systematic discussions in later chapters. It is not intended as a
biographical sketch. Only information about Marx's life directly
relevant to the understanding of his work is included.
5
Overview
1818-1835: Trier. Marx grew up in the town of Trier in Prussian
Rhineland, a formerly liberal province now under a harshly op-
pressive regime. Both his parents descended from rabbinical fami-
lies, but his father converted the whole family to Protestantism to
escape discrimination against Jews. Much has been made of
Marx's Jewish background and the alleged self-hatred that led him
to espouse anti-Semitism. There is something to the allegation, but
Marx's anti-Semitism never took a virulent practical form. His
attitude toward the Slavonic peoples - his "Russophobia" - was
in fact more deeply shaped by racism.
1835-1841: University studies. Upon leaving schooL Marx studied
briefly at the University of Bonn and then for five years in Berlin.
Here he came to know the philosophy of Hegel and met a group of
left-wing philosophers known as the "Young Hegelians," who
were mainly concerned with the critique of religion. He wrote his
doctoral dissertation on "The Difference between the Philosophies
of Nature in Democritus and Epicurus," an echo of which is found
in the frequent references in later works to the trading nations
who live "in the pores of society, like the Gods of Epicurus." The
Hegelian imprint these years gave to his thinking never wore off
completely, although it is not equally apparent in all his writings.
1842-1843: Journalism and philosophy. During this period Marx
worked as journalist and then as editor for the Cologne newspaper
Rheinische Zeitung. His articles show him to be a radical liberal,
concerned with freedom of the press and protection of the poor,
without, however, seeing the latter as the agent of their own
emancipation. After the paper was suppressed by the government
in early 1843, Marx devoted a long summer to philosophical stud-
ies. One fruit of this activity is The Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of
Right, a commentary on §§261-313 of Hegel's work. The work
was first published in this century. Another, the essay "On the
Jewish Question," shows Marx from his worst side as a writer. It is
replete with overblown and obscure rhetoric as well as offending
remarks about Judaism. It remains of some interest, however,
because it contains Marx's only statement on the rights of man,
which he characterizes as "the rights of egoistic man, of man
separated from other men and from the community."
1843-1845: Paris and communism. From late 1843 to early 1845
6
Life and Writings
Marx lived in Paris. He became a communist and in the article
"Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction" stated his
belief that the proletariat must emancipate itself and thereby the
whole of society. He also wrote a long critique of capitalism, vari-
ously known as The Paris Manuscripts or Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts of 1844, published only in this century. The notion of
the alienation of man under capitalism is the central theme. In
Paris he also began his lifelong friendship with Friedrich Engels
and collaborated with him on an exuberantly juvenile refutation
of the Young Hegelians, The Holy Family; or, Critique of Critical
Criticism.
1845-1848: Brussels. Marx had been active among the emigre
German politicians in Paris and, as a result of pressure from the
Prussian government, had to leave Paris for Brussels. He remained
active in politics, first on a local and then on a European scale.
Three important writings punctuate these years. In 1845-6 he and
Engels collaborated on the posthumously published German Ide-
0109Y, in which historical materialism emerged in full-fledged
form, or at least as fully fledged as it ever came to be. In 1847 he
published Misere de la Philosophie, a reply to P.-J. Proudhon's Philo-
sophie de la Misere, which had appeared the previous year. In the
heavily ironic style he had not yet discarded, Marx makes fun of
Proudhon's attempt to master the Hegelian dialectic and of his
petty-bourgeois outlook. In 1848 Marx and Engels collaborated
on The Communist Manifesto, published in London by the Commu-
nist League. This masterpiece of political propaganda contains a
sweeping historical overview and extravagant praise of the civiliz-
ing power of capitalism, concluding that "what the bourgeoisie
produces, above all, is its own gravediggers." By this time two of
the three major pieces of Marx's doctrine were in place: the theory
of alienation and historical materialism. The theory of exploitation
existed in an embryonic stage but was not fully worked out until
many years later.
1848-1849: Revolution in Germany. On 26 February 1848 news
of the revolution in Paris reached Brussels. A week later Marx
arrived in Paris and left for Cologne in early April to become editor
of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which published 300 issues before it
folded in May 1849. In its pages Marx initially encouraged the
7
Overview
German bourgeoisie to pursue the work of the democratic revolu-
tion, but when they shied away from what in his view was their
historical mission, his policy took a leftward tum. He could not,
however, stem the counterrevolutionary tide. When he was ex-
pelled from Germany in May 1849, he also left active politics for
fIfteen years, not counting emigre squabbles in London.
1850-1852: The sociology of French politics. From August 1849 to
his death Marx lived in London, interrupted by a few brief visits
abroad. In the short-lived Neue Rheinische Zeitung: Politisch-
okonomische Revue, he wrote a series of articles on French politics,
which were published by Engels in 1895 as The Class Stru99les in
France. They cover the period from the outbreak of the February
Revolution to August 1850. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bo-
naparte was published in 1852 and covers the whole period from
1848 to Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat in December 1851. These
writings remain our main source for the understanding of Marx's
theory of the capitalist state, together with the contemporary arti-
cles on English politics.
1850-1878: Economic studies and writin9s. In June 1850 Marx
obtained a ticket to the Reading Room in the British Museum,
thus beginning the economic studies that eventually led to the
three volumes of Capital. The road was long, twisted, and thorny.
Of the numerous manuscripts Marx produced in these years, only
two - Critique of Political Economy and Capital I - were published in
his lifetime. The publication of the others has been scattered over a
century, from 1884 to 1982. To help the reader orient himself in
this wilderness, I shall indicate the date of writing and of publica-
tion of these manuscripts, as well as their relation to one another.
1857-1858: Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Okonomie. This
huge manuscript - 1,000 printed pages - was fIrst published in
Moscow in 1939-41 but was not available to Western scholars
until the East German publication in 1953. It is partly an impen-
etrable Hegelian thicket, partly a wonderfully inspiring study of
economic philosophy and economic history. It is perhaps the
freshest and most engaging of all Marx's works, one in which his
ideas can be studied in statu nascendi.
1859: A Critique of Political Economy. This work corresponds to
the fIrst and least interesting part of the Grundrisse. Its place in the
8
Life and Writings
history of Marxism is due to the important preface where Marx
summarized, in a single long paragraph, the basic tenets of histor-
ical materialism. Until the publication in 1926 of the first part of
The German Ideology, these few sentences remained the only au-
thoritative statement of the theory.
1861-1863: Zur Kritik der politischen Okonomie. This enormous
manuscript - 2,300 printed pages - consists of twenty-one note-
books. Of these, notebooks 6 through 15 were published by Karl
Kautsky in 1906-8 as Theories of Surplus-Value. They deal mainly
with the history of economic thought, but contain also important
substantive passages. The remaining notebooks were published in
1976-82, in the new scholarly edition of Marx's and Engels's
collected works (see the section, "Editions of Marx's Writings").
They are preliminary studies to the first and third volumes of
Capital, and supplement them on some points.
1865: Results of the Immediate Process of Production. This manu-
script was published in Moscow in 1933 but was first made avail-
able to Western scholars in 1969. It was intended to serve as a
bridge between the first and the second volumes of Capital.
1867: Capital l. This book is beyond doubt and comparison
Marx's most important work. It stands with Darwin's Origin of
Species as the most influential book of the nineteenth century.
Although Marx intended it to serve the cause of the working class,
it is also and preeminently a book for the happy few, by one of
them. Marx assumes that his readers know Greek, Latin, and the
major European languages; that they are capable of recognizing
remote allusions to literary and philosophical works, besides being
thoroughly familiar with arcane matters of political economy. It is
carried by a white-burning indignation that is all the more effec-
tive for being more disciplined than in Marx's earlier works, which
were often marred by heavy sarcasm. Considered as economic
analysis it was not a lasting achievement, but it remains unsur-
passed as a study of technical change, entrepreneurial behavior,
and class conflict in the age of classical capitalism.
1865-1878: Capital II. This work, published by Engels in 1884, is
with a few exceptions utterly boring and, unlike the two other
volumes, does not repay reading for anyone but Marx scholars.
Marx's attempt to draw interesting conclusions from simple ac-
9
Overview
counting principles was not successful. The exceptions are the
schemes of simple and extended reproduction, which anticipate
modern input-output analysis, although the gist of Marx's analy-
sis can be stated in one page whereas he uses more than one
hundred.
1864-1875: Capital III. This work, published by Engels in 1894,
is much more valuable. The chapters on economic history are
among Marx's most important writings. The chapters on value
theory and crisis theory contain his most authoritative statements
on these topics. It must be added, however, that the scholarly
consensus today is that these theories are seriously, perhaps irre-
parably, flawed. The nonspecialist reader will not profit much
from struggling with Marx's exposition of them.
1852-1862: American journalism. To earn a living, Marx wrote
about five hundred articles, over a period of ten years, as European
correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, a leading American
newspaper of progressive persuasions. Many of his contributions
are small masterpieces of historical and political analysis, notably
the articles on the British rule in India and the numerous articles
on English politics, which fonn a useful supplement to the writ-
ings on France. In others one is more struck by his bias than his
acumen, as when he touches upon one of his bites noires, the
British foreign minister Lord Palmerston or Napoleon III.
1864-1872: The First International. Marx played a leading, in fact
dominating, role in the International Working Men's Association,
an organization of European trade unions. Marx penned the inau-
gural address and the provisional rules of the International and
was elected to the General Council, which was in charge of day-
to-day affairs between the annual congresses. Its first years were
marked by Marx's successful struggle against one anarchist fac-
tion, the followers of Proudhon; the last years by the unsuccessful
struggle against another, grouped around Mikhail Bakunin. The
most important written work from this period is The Civil War in
France, a postmortem on the revolutionary insurrection in 1871
known as the Paris Commune.
1873-1883: Last years. The last years of Marx's life were marked
by ill health. He worked on the manuscripts for Capital but without
much progress. He guided from a distance the emerging working-
10
Marx and Engels
class movement in Germany and wrote an important commentary
- The Critique of the Gotha Program - on a document that was
drawn up when the two socialist parties in Germany merged in
1875. He took an interest in Russian history and society and corre-
sponded with Russian socialists about the proper strategy for revo-
lution in a backward country not yet permeated by capitalism.
MARX AND ENGELS
Friedrich Engels (1820-95) collaborated closely with Marx over a
period of forty years. In the eyes of posterity, especially in the
communist countries, they have merged into one entity, Marx-
and-Engels. Even scholars sometimes assume without much argu-
ment that statements by Engels can be used to support this or that
interpretation of Marx. The present exposition is guided by the
opposite principle: Only statements by Marx are used to argue that
Marx held this or that view.
Marx was a genius, a force of nature. Engels was a minor,
prolific, somewhat pedantic writer. He began the tradition of cod-
ifying Marx's thought into a total system that promises answers to
all questions in philosophy, the natural sciences, and the social
sciences. The polemical work Anti-Diihring, in particular, became
immensely influential. especially the discussion of dialectics. It is a
fact of major tragicomical proportions that a third of mankind
professes these naive, amateurish speculations as its official philos-
ophy. It is often argued that because Marx read the manuscript to
Anti-Diihring, and as far as we know did not object to it, its views
can be imputed to him en bloc. The argument is worthless. Marx
was constitutionally incapable of arriving at his conclusions with-
out deep, prolonged, and independent study - always seeking out
the original sources and developing his own views only when he
had thoroughly assimilated them. It is an attitude totally foreign to
secondhand acceptance of ideas. He had the best of personal rea-
sons for taking an interest in Engels's work and occasionally refer-
ring to it, but this does not warrant the view that he fully endorsed
it. There are, of course, even stronger objections to imputing to
him the views on historical materialism voiced by Engels after
Marx's death.
11
Overview
It seems justified, however, to use the works written jointly by
Marx and Engels - above all, The German Ideology and The C o m m u ~
nisI Manifesto - as evidence for Marx's views. If we compare the
powerful, complex arguments of the former work with Engels's
contemporary writings on similar topics, it is difficult to believe
that he had more than a small share of the responsibility. Similar-
ly, if we compare the latter work with the rough draft, written by
Engels alone, we must conclude that the broad historical sweep
and the most penetrating formulations are due to Marx. In any
case - and this is what matters - there is no reason to believe that
Marx did not identify himself fully with the views expressed in the
two works.
MARXISM AFTER MARX
The development of Marx's doctrine after his death first followed
the course of a mainstream, the Second International, and then
divided into two separate currents, Soviet Marxism and Western
Marxism. The story of these developments is, by and large, a de-
pressing one. Although the Marxist movement has produced some
great political leaders, there have been no outstanding thinkers
after Marx. Moreover, the propensity of some political leaders to
believe themselves great thinkers and their ability to impose this
view on others have had a permanently stultifying effect on intel-
lectuallife in the communist countries. Marxists in Western Eu-
rope, on the other hand, have indulged in obscurantism, uto-
pianism, and irresponsibility. There are nuances and exceptions,
but on the whole it is difficult not to subscribe to Kolakowski's
negative assessment of the development of Marxist doctrine.
The Second International was formed in 1889 as an association
of (mainly European) socialist parties. For all practical purposes it
broke down in 1914, when workers of different countries took to
arms against each other. Whatever was left was destroyed a few
years later, when the October Revolution made it evident that the
carefully worked out compromise formulations did not provide
any guide to hard political choices.
Politically as well as theoretically, the International was domi-
nated by the German Socialist Party (SPD). Although its official
12
Marxism after Marx
image was that of the revolutionary spearhead of the working
class, it was in reality a conservative, bureaucratic organization,
oriented mainly toward its own survival and entrenchment. The
sociologist Robert Michels cited the SPD as evidence for what he
baptized the "iron law of oligarchy." A later historian referred to
its strategy as "negative integration" and "revolutionary waiting."
The leading theoretician of SPD, Karl Kautsky, was also the domi-
nant thinker of the International, together with the Russian Geor-
ghi Plekhanov. Between them they completed the process begun
by Engels - to cut the brilliant, sometimes incoherent ideas of
Marx down to size and order. With some finishing touches added
by Lenin, "Marxism-Leninism" - with the twin doctrines of his-
torical materialism and dialectical materialism - was in place. It is
characterized by shallow Hegelianism, naive scientism, lack of fal-
sifiability, and a strong preference for assertion over argument. It is
Marxism set in concrete.
There were other trends and figures in the International. An
early revolt against the pseudorevolutionary stance of the SPD was
made by Eduard Bernstein around 1900. He asserted, essentially,
that revolution was unlikely, because capitalism was no longer
prone to cyclical crises; superfluous, because the socialist goals
could be realized by nonviolent means; and in any case undesir-
able, because notions like "the dictatorship of the proletariat"
belong to a lower stage of civilization. Although these views
largely coincided with the practices of SPD, the party was embar-
rassed by his voicing them in public. "Dear Ede," wrote a trade
union leader, "one doesn't say these things, one simply does
them."
Left-wing critics, notably Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, wanted
the International to become genuinely revolutionary. The "orga-
nizational question" is central in their writings. Marx had never
developed a theory of organization, except for the general remark
that "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered
by the working classes themselves," because the opposite view
runs into the problem that "the educator must himself be edu-
cated." To Lenin's mind, this attitude was sheer romanticism.
With relentless pragmatism, he insisted on a centralized and hier-
archical organization of the workers - what came to be known as
13
Overview
"democratic centralism." Rosa Luxemburg, on the other hand,
tried to work out the implications of Marx's views, toward a work-
ing-class movement that was both spontaneous and revolu!ionary.
She was the first great "activist" of the socialist movement - pre-
cursor and heroine of May 1968 but with a more serious bent than
the flower generation. She is the only one of the great socialist
leaders in the West to have been killed in revolutionary action, in
Berlin after the end of World War I.
Luxemburg was also one of the best analytical minds of the
Second International. The crispness and freshness of her political
writings strike one even today, although her more self-conscious
theoretical efforts are distinctly forgettable. An even more im-
pressive thinker was Leon Trotsky. Like Marx, and like Luxem-
burg, he suffered from wishful thinking and lack of intellectual
discipline, but he also had a rare grasp of history and political
sociology, which enabled him to adapt Marx's theory ofrevolution
to backward nations. It can be argued, however, that history has
shown him right to a greater extent than he hoped for, by suggest-
ing that revolutions will occur only in the countries on the periph-
ery of capitalism, without spreading to the core countries.
The further history of Marxism in the communist countries re-
sembles that of any other "degenerating research programme," to
use a phrase from Imre Lakatos. The development of the theory
took the form of Ptolemaic additions to save appearances, ad hoc
hypotheses to explain anomalies, tortuous exegeses, and stubborn
disregard of facts. It was accompanied by total destruction of phi-
losophy, with the partial exception of logical theory; by near-total
paralysis of the social sciences; and by a severe setback for the
natural sciences, notably in genetics. The destruction of reason
that took place under Stalin or during the Chinese Cultural Revo-
lution had no precedent in history. The recovery is still incomplete
or uncertain, except in the natural sciences.
The causal role of Marxism-Leninism in these developments
remains unclear. The rise of the pseudogeneticist Lysenko was
probably due more to his proletarian background and to the im-
mense faith in the power of science to bring rapid results that
characterized the Soviet state in the first years than to any "dialec-
tical" features of his views. Indeed, by virtue of its essential
14
Marxism after Marx
vagueness dialectical materialism lends itself to the justification,
after the fact, of virtually any theory. Whereas some argued that
dialectical materialism requires genes to have a specific material
substrate, others asserted that dialectical materialism, as opposed to
mechanical materialism, requires them to be lodged in the orga-
nism as a whole. Whether the choice between these views was
decided on scientific grounds or on political. the philosophical
justification was mainly a ritual embellishment.
Most forms of Western Marxism can be characterized as at-
tempts to create a synthesis of Marx and various other thinkers. Its
inception was marked by the publication of Georg Lukacs's History
and Class Consciousness in 1923. This work anticipates in a quite
remarkable way the Hegelian reinterpretation of Marx that was
fully launched a few years later, with the publication of Marx's
early manuscripts. Lukacs was also influenced by the writings of
Max Weber; in particular, his interpretation of Marx's notion of
alienation owes much to Weber's idea of the increasing ra-
tionalization of society. In spite of many valuable insights in this
and other works, Lukacs's career as a whole can be summarized as
the abdication of reason or, in Kolakowski's phrase, reason in the
service of dogma. The political and intellectual irresponsibility of
his work is matched only by the fascination that for a long time he
exerted on other Western intellectuals. Like Pascal with regard to
religion, they argued that in politics nil n'y a rien de si confOlme a
la raison que ce desaveu de la raison."
Within the same intellectual orbit we may also mention figures
like Karl Mannheim or Karl Korsch. More durably influential.
however, was the "Frankfurt School." Counted among its original
members were Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor
von Adorno; the central contemporary descendant is JGrgen
Habermas. Theirs was a synthesis not of Marx and Weber but of
Marx and Freud - two great unmaskers, debunkers, and would-
be liberators. Much of the work of the early Frankfurt School is
marred, however. by Hegelian obscurantism and thinly disguised
elitism. Again the reader is referred to Kolakowski for a devastat-
ing review. The work of Habermas is also somewhat impenetrable
but more solidly founded in rational argument.
French Marxism has been through two major phases. The first
15
Overview
was dominated by Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty,
who added Husserl and Heidegger to the prisms through which
Marx could be read. It is somewhat inaccurate, however, to refer
to this school as "existential Marxism," because the major work it
produced - Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason - owes less to
existential philosophy than to French economic and political his-
torians. The second phase arose through the improbable and bar-
ren marriage of Marx with Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder of
structural linguistics. In the interpretation of Louis Althusser, sci-
entism again came to the forefront in Marxism, after a generation
of Marxists who had insisted that the of natural science
were inapplicable to the study of society.
English Marxism: Is there such a thing? Marx himself grew
increasingly cross with his adopted country, deploring the crude
empiricism of the English and their lack of revolutionary fervor.
The Hegelian aspects of Marxism certainly never took hold in
England or in the United States. Marxian political economy,
which did not much interest the Continental Marxists, had strong-
er appeal. Joan Robinson's Accumulation of Capital from 1956 was
perhaps the most important work in Marxist economic theory
after Marx, although it turned out to create an orthodoxy of its
own that has become a serious obstacle to progress. Other recent
Anglo-American work in Marxist philosophy, history, and social
science is more promising - at least in my opinion, because I am
referring to the tendency that has shaped the present exposition.
The work of G. A. Cohen, John Roemer, and others unites rigor
and relevance in a way that has been sorely lacking in Marxism.
There is, finally, the Marxism of the Third World countries. This
has largely been concerned with extending Marx's notion of ex-
ploitation from the national to the international domain. Exam-
ples include the dependency theory of Andre Gunder Frank, the
theory of unequal exchange proposed by Aghiri Emmanuel. and
Samir Amin's theory of accumulation on a world scale. Though
often suggestive, these writings are with few exceptions flawed by
technical deficiencies and conceptual naivete.
Because these writers do not in these respects compare un-
favorably with, say, Horkheimer or Althusser, this comment ought
16
Editions of Marx's Writings
not to be taken as a slur on their Third World origin. The problem
is that Marxism tends to attract thinkers who are either fascinated
by the darkly Hegelian origins of the theory or - on the other
extreme - urgently preoccupied with practical relevance. Often
the extremes meet, in an unnerving combination of extremely
abstract theory and highly specific proposals. What Marxism needs
is the development of what Robert Merton called "theories of the
middle range." For this purpose it may be necessary - indeed, in
the present phase it is necessary - to think less about relevance in
the short term, to become more relevant in the long term. When
Marx went into his inner exile in the British Museum, he followed
the strategy "One step backward, two steps forward," taking time
off from politics to fashion a tool that could then be of use in
politics. The theory he developed has done service for a century
but is becoming increasingly irrelevant for most of our urgent
problems. "Back to the British Museum!" is hardly a slogan with
mass political appeal. but it is one that Marxists would do well to
ponder.
EDITIONS OF MARX'S WRITINGS
In German and English, there are four editions of Marx's and
Engels's collected works, none of them complete. There are also
numerous editions of individual writings, a few of which are men-
tioned below.
There are two different editions, each of them intended as the
definitive scholarly edition, referred to as MarX-Engels Gesamt-Aus-
gabe (MEGA). The first MEGA was published between 1927 and
1935. Before it was stopped by Stalin's rise to power, it had trans-
formed Marx scholarship and Marxist thought through the pub-
lication of The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and The Ger-
man Ideology.
The next edition, in chronological order, is the Marx-Engels
Werke (MEW), published in East Berlin from 1956. It is the only
edition that is approximately complete, but it is not a scholarly
edition. Marx's writings in English and French are published in
German translation. Many of the posthumous economic writings
17
Overview
are not included here; some works also appear to have been ex-
cluded on ideological grounds. The editorial introductions and
notes are heavily dogmatic but provide much useful information.
An English translation of MEW has been in progress since the
1970s, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works (CW). It
appears to aim at completeness but not at scholarship; yet it is
invaluable to Marx scholars because much of the English jour-
nalism here becomes easily accessible in the original language for
the first time.
Finally, the second MEGA has been unfolding since 1977 at a
majestic pace and will not come to a halt until well into the next
century. It has already brought us several major unpublished
manuscripts, notably the previously unknown parts of the 1861-3
Critique. More preparatory manuscripts for Capital will follow. The
scholarly apparatus is splendid, but the editors have not felt able to
avoid the usual ideological rituals.
The standard German editions of the three volumes of Capital
are identical with volumes 23-5 of MEW. An English translation
of the first volume appeared in 1886, authorized by Engels. All
later editions have been reprinted of this translation, until a new
translation by Ben Fowkes was published by Penguin in 1976.
Being as reliable as the original translation and less encumbered by
heavy Victorian prose, it ought eventually to replace it as the
standard English reference. Yet for many years to come many will
continue to read the three volumes in the edition published by
International Publishers, as this is the one usually cited by English
scholars.
The 1953 German edition of the Grundrisse has now been super-
seded by the publication in the new MEGA. An English translation
by Martin Nicolaus was published by Penguin in 1973. The stan-
dard German edition of the Theories of Surplus-Value used to be
volumes 26.1-26.3 of the MEW, but these are also superseded by
the new MEGA. The standard English translation is published by
Lawrence and Wishart. The Results of the Immediate Process of Pro-
duction is translated as an appendix to the Penguin edition of Cap-
ital I; an easily accessible German edition was published by Verlag
Neue Kritik (Frankfurt) in 1969, itself a photographic reprint of
the 1933 Moscow edition.
18
Bibli09raphy
There are many books entitled "Marx on or "Marx and
Engels on collecting their writings and obiter dicta on vari-
ous topics. There are also many selections of their writings from
different periods: the early manuscripts, the American journalism,
writings from the First International. and so on. There are various
"Selected Writings" covering the corpus as a whole and there are,
of course, many editions of most individual writings. It is impossi-
ble to list them all, and there is not much point in selecting a few. If
one should be singled out, it is Saul Padover's edition of The Letters
of Karl Marx, (Prentice-Hall. 1979), which usefully collects the
most important correspondence. Besides providing valuable sup-
plementary sources for the understanding of his theories, Marx's
letters vividly convey his ebullient personality.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Introduction. By far the best guide to the Marxist universe is Leszek
Kolakowski'S Main Currents of Marxism, 3 vols. (Oxford University Press,
1978). It is excellent on philosophy, superb on politics, but somewhat
scanty on social theory, especially economics.
Life and writinos. There is no first-rate, full-length biography or intellec-
tual biography of Marx comparable to those of Rosa Luxemburg or Leon
Trotsky cited below. An excellent short study is Isaiah Berlin's Karl Marx,
3d ed. (Oxford University Press, 1973). Maximilien Rubel's Karl Marx:
Essai de Biooraphie Intellectuelle (Presses Universitaires de France, 1959)
remains useful. A clear biographical presentation is David McLellan, Karl
Marx: His Life and Thouoht (Macmillan, 1973). More ambitious, with
deeper psychological understanding, is Jerrold Seigel, Marx's Fate: The
Shape of a Life (Princeton University Press, 1978). On Marx's Jewishness,
see Julius Carlebach, Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Judaism (Rout-
ledge and Kegan Paul, 1978) and Isaiah Berlin, "Benjamin Disraeli, Karl
Marx, and the search for identity," in his Aoainst the Current (Viking Press,
1980). Two books on Marx as a politician are Oscar J. Hammen, The Red
'48ers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Enoels (Scribner, 1969), and Henry Collins
and Chimen Abramsky, Karl Marx and the British Labour Movement (Mac-
millan, 1965). Marx's relation to the anarchists is discussed in Pierre
Ansart, Marx et I'Anarchisme (Presses Universitaires de France, 1969), and
in Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists (Routledge and Kegan Paul,
1980). An encyclopedic survey of Marx's stylistic repertoire is S. S.
Prawer, Karl Marx and World Literature (Oxford University Press, 1978).
19
Overview
Marx and Engels. A work especially devoted to the relation between
Marx and Engels is Norman Levine, The Tragic Deception: Marx contra
Engels (Clio Books, 1975). A briefer treatment is that of Gan.:th Stedman
Jones. "Engels and the history of Marxism," in Eric Hobsbawm (ed.), The
History of Marxism (Harvester Press, 1982), 1 :290-326.
Marxism after Marx. The three volumes of Kolakowski's Main Currents of
Marxism are indispensable. They can be usefully supplemented by vol-
umes 3 to 5 of G. D. H. Cole's History of Socialist Thought (Macmillan.
1953-60). A good introduction to Soviet Marxism and its historical
sources is Z. A. Jordan, The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism (Macmillan,
1967). It can be usefully supplemented by Loren Graham, Science and
Philosophy in the Soviet Union (Knopf, 1972). A history of the SPD is Dieter
Groh, Negative Integration und revolutionlirer Attentismus (Suhrkamp.
1973). Valuable studies of individual figures are J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxem-
burg (Oxford University Press, 1966), and B. Knei-Paz. The Social and
Political Thought of Leon Trotsky (Oxford University Press, 1977). On the
Frankfurt School. see Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination (Little.
Brown, 1973). There is, to my knowledge, no good treatment of French
Marxism.
Editions of Marx's writings. A useful survey is that of Eric Hobsbawm,
"The fortune of Marx's and Engels' writings," in E. Hobsbawm (ed.),
History of Marxism, 1: 327-344.
20
2
MARXIST METHODOLOGY
INTRODUCTION
M
ANY claims have been made for "the Marxist method."
Some of them are justified, others are exaggerated, false, or
unintelligible. Although Marx had valuable methodological in-
sights that are not yet fully exhausted, there is no "dialectical
reason" that separates Mandsts from ordinary mortals. On first
exposure to Marxist writings, many feel mystified and terrorized
by references to the "dialectical unity of opposites," the "revolu-
tionary unity of theory and practice," and similar phrases. All too
often, such locutions have allowed followers of Marx to get away
with murder, sometimes literally so. It is against this background
of extreme self-indulgence that I adopt what may look like an
excessively purist viewpoint on methodology. Readers may toler-
ate suggestive ambiguity in a writer if on past performance they
are willing to give him the benefit of doubt, but Marxism has long
since exhausted its credit.
The Marxist methodology that I want emphatically to reject is
an amalgam of three elements. The first is methodological holism,
the view that in social life there exist wholes or collectivities, state-
ments about which cannot be reduced to statements about the
member individuals. The second is functional explanation, the
attempt to explain social phenomena in terms of their beneficial
consequences for someone or something, even when no intention
to bring about these consequences has been demonstrated. The
third is dialectical deduction, a mode of thinking that is derived
from Hegel's Logic and that does not lend itself to brief summary.
Of these, the first two are also found, separately or in combina-
tion, in non-Marxist social science. Emile Durkheim, among oth-
21
Marxist Methodology
ers, insisted that, even were psychology to become a perfect sci-
ence, there would remain some social facts it could not explain.
Robert Merton has advocated explanation of institutions and be-
havioral patterns in terms of their "latent functions," that is, con-
sequences that were neither intended by the agents who produce
them nor perceived by those who benefit from them. Social an-
thropologists have proposed explanations that are both holistic
and functional. When Marx employs the same method, he differs
not only in the Hegelian element sometimes superimposed on it
but also in the nature of the wholes and the benefits that enter into
the explanation. Most importantly, he uses functional explanation
not only to account for the stability of societies but also to demon-
strate their inherent tendency to develop toward communism.
Marx was very much a nineteenth-century figure, which is to
say that in methodological matters he was a transitional figure. He
had liberated himself from explicit theological assumptions, yet he
retained the teleological outlook they had inspired. Like most of
his contemporaries he was impressed by the progress of biology
and wrongly thought that the study of society could profit from the
study of organisms. (It is only fair to add, however, that he in-
dulged much less in analogical inference from biology than, say,
Auguste Comte or Herbert Spencer.) His scientism - the belief that
there exist "laws of motion" for society that operate with "iron
necessity" - rested on a naive extrapolation from the achieve-
ments of natural science. We shall find, over and over again, that
dated methodological conceptions coexist, in his work, with strik-
ingly fresh insights.
METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM
Methodological individualism is the view that all institutions, be-
havioral patterns, and social processes can in principle be ex-
plained in terms of individuals only: their actions, properties, and
relations. It is a form of reductionism, which is to say that it en-
joins us to explain complex phenomena in terms of their simpler
components. Reductionism is a central strategy in science. It has
created such disciplines as molecular biology and physical chem-
istry. The case of biology is especially interesting, because for a
22
Methodological Individualism
long time it was claimed to be inherently irreducible to physics or
chemistry. A similar claim is still made today with respect to the
social sciences. The counterclaim is not that there already exists a
social psychology or psychological sociology that has effectuated a
complete reduction. Rather, it is that there is no objection in prin-
ciple to such a reduction being carried out, even though it may
remain impracticable for the foreseeable future. One may add that
with respect to some problems the "search for microfoundations"
- another term for methodological individualism - has already
yielded important results. A full reduction is possible in principle;
a partial reduction is well under way.
This is not the place to defend the doctrine of methodological
individualism, beyond saying that our confidence in and under-
standing of an explanation is improved if we open "the black box"
and get a look at the nuts and bolts, the cogs and wheels of the
mechanism inside it. Some objections may in any case evaporate if
a few things are made clear. First, the doctrine has no implications
about the kind of individual-level explanation that is needed to
carry out the reduction. In particular, the assumption that indi-
viduals are rational and selfish is not part of the doctrine, although
compatible with it. Second, it does not assume that individuals are
"atoms" that have a presocial existence before they come together
to form society. Relations between individuals must be let in on
the ground floor of social explanation. Third, it does not extend to
what goes on inside peoples' heads. In the phrase "The United
States fears the Soviet Union," the first collective noun is subject to
reduction but not the second, because what the individual Ameri-
cans fear may well be a nebulous collective entity.
Lastly, adherence to methodological individualism should not
blind one to the dangers of premature reductionism. An important
example is the following. To understand successful collective ac-
tion, such as a strike, we would ideally like to give an account in
terms of the motives and beliefs of the participants. These proxi-
mate causes of the behavior are, however, usually very elusive.
Often the remote causes are more tractable. We may, for instance,
be able to establish a causal connection between, on the one hand,
certain features of the group in question and, on the other hand, its
propensity to strike. Other things being equal, a strike may be
23
Marxist Methodology
more likely the more similar the background of the members and
the more stable the composition of the group. We know that the
effect of these remote "macrovariables" must be mediated by their
impact on individual motives and beliefs, but we may be unable to
specify the mechanism. In such cases the search for microfounda-
tions may lead to barren speculation. The principle of meth-
odological individualism says only that the search is not inherently
sterile, although, in any given case, it may well be pointless in the
present state of knowledge.
In Marx there are two main instances of methodological holism,
corresponding to his two central theoretical concerns. In the anal-
ysis of capitalism, "Capital" appears as a collective entity, which
cannot be reduced to the several individual firms. Marx believed
that capital had a logic of its own, which was somehow prior in
the explanatory order to market behavior and competition. Ac-
cording to methodological individualism, on the other hand, any
"laws of motion and self-regulation" of capitalism must be de-
duced as theorems from axioms specifying the motives and con-
straints of firms, workers, and consumers.
In historical materialism, "Humanity" appears as the collective
subject whose flowering in communism is the final goal of history.
Marx was strongly influenced by Hegel's tripartite division of his-
tory into an initial undifferentiated unity, followed by a phase of
conflict and alienation and culminating with a higher unity that
retains the individuality developed in the second phase. In Hegel's
and Marx's secular theology, mankind had to alienate itself from
itself in order to regain itself in an enriched form. Exactly how this
is mediated by the actions of individuals, motivated by goals of
their own, is never made clear.
The point should not be overemphasized. Marx was not a purely
speCUlative social thinker. Most of the time he was indeed con-
cerned with forging links among individual motives, individual
behavior, and aggregate consequences. On the other hand, one
should not go to the other extreme and view his references to
Capital and Mankind as rhetorical devices with no explanatory
relevance. Marx does often point to the needs of these collective
entities in order to explain events and institutions that appear as if
by magic to fulfill them. His belief in the independent logic of
24
Marxism and Rational Choice
aggregates does sometimes weaken his motivation to study the
fine grain of social structure and social change. Speculative ele-
ments coexist, often within the same work, with more soundly
based views. The Grundrisse, in particular, shows Marx's mind
operating in both registers, with dizzying transitions.
"Individualism" is a term with many connotations. Quite inde-
pendently of the issues just discussed, one may profess indi-
vidualism in an ethical or normative sense. This doctrine, though
not in itself a substantive ethical view, imposes constraints on any
such view by stipulating that in the final analysis only individuals
are morally relevant. Some implications of this view are the fol-
lowing. The advancement of knowledge, the creation of great
works of art, or the protection of nature are not independent
sources of value - they have value only to the extent that they are
valued by individuals. Equality between the sexes, between class-
es, or between nations is not a value in itself - it is to be promoted
only to the extent that it leads to greater equality between indi-
viduals. It is never justified to ask people to sacrifice themselves for
the sake of the fatherland or the proletariat - unless one can show
that other concrete individuals benefit. (And even then, of course,
the justification may be dubious.)
Marx was an individualist in this normative sense. He appreci-
ated that class societies in general and capitalism in particular had
led to enormous advances in civilization, as judged by the best
achievements in art and science. Yet this process was the self-
realization of Man rather than of individual men, who had, for the
most part, lived in misery. Indeed, only by the exploitation of the
many could class societies create the free time in which a few
could contribute to the progress of civilization. The attraction of
communism in his eyes was to allow the self-realization of each
and every individual, not just of a small elite. As a by-product
there will also be an unprecedented flowering of mankind, but this
is not, to repeat, in itself a source of value.
MARXISM AND RATIONAL CHOICE
That human behavior can be explained in terms of rational choice
is becoming a central, perhaps even dominant view in the social
25
Marxist Methodology
sciences. Broadly speaking, it was born around 1870 when the
marginalist revolution in economic theory allowed a precise for-
mulation of the costs and benefits attached to alternative uses of
scarce resources. Capital I was published in 1867, so we would not
expect Marx to have been exposed to these ideas. Yet we may ask
whether his theory is consistent with the basic assumptions of the
rational-choice approach, or whether - as later followers and op-
ponents have claimed - the two are mutually incompatible.
The explanation of an action makes appeal to two successive
filtering processes. From the whole set of abstractly possible
courses of action we first filter out those that do not satisfy the
given logical, physical, economic, or mental constraints. Human
beings cannot have their cake and eat it too; they cannot fly in the
air like birds; they cannot spend more than they earn; and they
cannot act like lightning-fast calculating machines. Within the re-
maining set we appeal to some principle of selection that explains
which action is finally realized. Rational-choice theory assumes
that people will choose the course of action they prefer, or think is
best. To act rationally is to choose the best action in the feasible set.
The full structure of rational-choice theory is more complex
than one would glean from this stark statement. Here are some of
the qualifications that need to be added. First, although the stan-
dard theory presents constraints and preferences as independent of
each other, either can in fact be shaped by the other. The con-
straints are shaped by the preferences if the person decides ahead
of time to eliminate certain options from the feasible set, which
one might do to avoid temptation or - more paradoxically - to
improve a bargaining position. Conversely, preferences are shaped
by constraints if the person consciously or unconsciously adapts
what he wants to what he can get. Second, it ought to be empha-
sized that the theory says that the person will choose the action
which he thinks is best suited to his purposes, which is not to say
that it is the best in a more objective sense. Rational-choice expla-
nation embodies a claim about the relation among action, motives,
and beliefs. It differs in this respect from evolutionary explanation
in biology, which asserts that organisms end up having the fea-
tures that are objectively best from the point of view of their fit-
ness. Third, it often happens that several people simultaneously try
26
Marxism and Rational Choice
to adjust rationally to each other. This belongs to the realm of game
theory, as it has somewhat unfortunately come to be known. A
better name would have been the theory of interdependent decisions. I
shall say more about game theory later.
First, however, we may go back to the two filters, to see what
alternatives to rational-choice theory might look like. Some would
deny that there is more than one filter operating. They would
argue that the constraints tend to be so strong as to eliminate all
alternatives but one, so that nothing is left for the second filter to
operate on. This view may be plausible in some cases. For workers
in classical capitalism, for instance, the joint effect of the budget
constraint and the calorie-protein constraint may have been to
narrow the feasible consumption purchases to a very small set. As
a general theory, however, this "structuralist" view is implausible.
It is hard to think of a general mechanism that would shape the
constraints so as to leave the agents with exactly one option. It will
not do, for example, to say that the members of the ruling class
make it their business to restrict the feasible set of the exploited
class, because this statement assumes that the former class has the
very freedom of choice it denies to the latter.
l
Another class of alternatives proposes different mechanisms in
the second filter. There are two main contenders. On the one
hand, there is the sociological view that men are governed by
social norms, roles, habit, or tradition. The view implies that be-
havior is less sensible to changes in the feasible set than one would
expect on the rational-choice approach. Value is attached to spe-
cific forms of behavior as such, not only to their outcomes. On the
other hand, there is the view that people do not choose what is
best, only what in some sense is good enough. (By a neologism,
this view is known as the "satisficing" theory of choice, as op-
posed to the "maximizing" assumption ofrational-choice theory.)
The argument is that the costs of collecting and evaluating infor-
mation, as well as the uncertainty surrounding the value of infor-
mation, make nonsense of the notion of "optimal behavior."
1 In any case, a rational ruling class would leave the exploited class with some
freedom of choice. It would restrict the set of alternatives up to the point where
the element preferred within it by the members of the exploited class is also the
one which the ruling class prefers within the unrestricted set.
27
Marxist Methodology
There is a good deal to each of these views. If in my opinion they
have not succeeded in dethroning rational-choice theory from its
dominant position, it is because they lack robustness and predic-
tive power. The facts they invoke in their support are real enough,
but as is generally acknowledged by philosophers of science,
"Facts don't kick." To discredit a theory it is not sufficient to
adduce facts that count against it; one must also produce another,
better explanation. As long as the sociological theory does not
specify the limits within which behavior will remain unaffected by
changes in the feasible set, or the satisficing theory does not come
up with an explanation of why people have different ideas of what
is good enough, they will not be able to claim superiority. These
theories offer what is sometimes called thick description, not
explanation.
There is a further response to rational-choice theory that does
not quite coincide with any of these alternatives. It goes as follows:
True, action can be explained in terms of the preferences and
beliefs of the actors, but this is not a rock-bottom explanation.
Motives and beliefs are not identical across individuals or stable
over time. They are shaped and modified by social forces, includ-
ing deliberate manipulation. Hence, rational-choice explanation
offers a shallow understanding of behavior and must be supple-
mented by an account of how preferences and beliefs emerge from
within the social structure.
The point might appear to be trivial. It is always possible to
search, beyond the cause of the phenomenon, for the cause of the
cause. One cannot on each occasion go back to first causes. Yet, for
someone who, like the Marxist, wants to understand long-term
historical trends, it points to a real difficulty. In the long run noth-
ing can be taken for constant or given; everything must be ex-
plained from within or "endogenously." It is probably true to say
that this is one of the main unresolved problems of the social
sciences. True, we do know something about how beliefs and
preferences are shaped by social structure. In particular, there is
good evidence for the view that people adjust their desires or their
beliefs so as to reduce "cognitive dissonance," that is, the mental
tension that arises when what one values is also believed to be out
of reach. The oppressed often end up accepting their state, because
28
Marxism and Rational Choice
the alternative is too hard to live with. Yet we know little about the
limits within which this mechanism operates and beyond which
revolt becomes a real possibility.
I promised to say a few words about game theory. I am among
those who believe game theory offers a unifying conceptual frame-
work for most of social science, in that it enables us to understand
three kinds of interdependencies that pervade social life. There is,
first, the fact that the reward of each depends on the rewards of all,
by altruism, envy, and the like; second. the fact that the reward of
each depends on the choices of all, through general social causal-
ity; and, third. the fact that the choice of each depends on the
choices of all. through anticipation and strategic calculation. This
is not to say that we can observe each kind of interdependency in
each case of social action. They represent conceptual possibilities.
not necessities.
Game theory has analyzed numerous forms of social interaction.
Here I shall only spell out the structure of the most prominent
among them. the so-called Prisoner's Dilemma, which is one ofthe
most intensively studied problems in contemporary social science.
Rather than retell the anecdote that lent its name to the dilemma. I
shall illustrate it by sticking to the example of strikes. Let us as-
sume that each worker has the choice between two options: to
join the strike or to abstain. Let us assume, moreover, that it is
better for all workers if all strike than if none do, because in the
former case they can successfully press for a wage raise. Let us
assume, finally, that the workers are solely motivated by personal
material gains. Tnen, for each worker it is always better to abstain,
regardless of what others do. If they strike, he or she can act as a
free rider and get the wage rise without the risk and cost involved
in striking. If they do not, there is no point in a unilateral act of
solidarity. Hence the individual will not strike; nor, because they
are similarly placed, will the others. The result of all workers acting
in an individually rational way is that the outcome is worse for all
than it could have been had they been able to cooperate. This is
also often referred to as the free-rider problem.
The main source of Marxist resistance to rational-choice theory
is the first, "structuralist" objection. Marx often emphasizes that
workers and capitalists are not agents in the full sense of the term:
29
Marxist Methodology
free, active choosers. Rather, they are mere placeholders or, as he
put it, "economic character masks," condemned to act out the
logic of the capitalist system. Workers are forced to sell their labor
power, and the idea that they have a free choice in the labor
market is an ideological construction. As consumers, their choice
between different consumption plans is restricted by low wages.
Similarly, capitalists are forced by competition to act as they do,
including the inhumane practices of exploitation. If they tried to
behave differently, they would be wiped out.
This argument fails because the notions of choice and force are
not incompatible. Consider two situations. In one, workers have
two options: barely surviving as independent peasants and barely
surviving as workers. In the other, the first option is the same, but
the other is now to work for a wage that allows a good standard of
living. In the latter case, the workers are forced to sell their labor
power - not by coercion but by what Marx calls the force of
circumstances. In the former, the workers clearly have a choice
between two options. But if they have a choice in the first situa-
tion, they must also have one in the second; the existence of
choice cannot be removed by improving one of the options. A
somewhat different argument establishes the reality of capitalist
choice in a competitive market. When capitalists, under the pres-
sure of competition, survey alternative modes of action and go
through extensive calculation to find the most profitable, they
engage in the very paradigm of choice behavior. The fact that they
do not survive if they make the wrong choice does not mean that
they do not make choices; on the contrary, choice is presupposed.
In Marx's economic theory the denial of choice is closely linked
with the labor theory of value. Marx postulated that the economy
had a surface structure and a deep structure. The surface structure
is that of everyday economic life, in which the economic agents
make rational choices in terms of the market prices of goods. In the
deep structure, goods are characterized by their labor values - the
amount of socially necessary labor time required to produce them.
The surface structure is merely the working out of the relations
defined by the deep structure, just as the visible appearance of a
physical object is a mere consequence of its atomic structure. I
shall argue later that this theory of the relation between values and
30
Functional Explanation in Marxism
prices, the essence and the appearance in economic life, is barely
intelligible. It certainly misled Marx, in preventing him from ap-
preciating the centrality of choice and alternatives in economics.
Outside economic analysis proper Marx's structuralist method
did not affect his concrete investigations. In the brilliant core chap-
ters on economic sociology in Capital I, Marx fully recognized the
subtle interplay among entrepreneurial choice, profit, technology,
and power in the firm. His political sociology likewise was sen-
sitive to rational and strategic thinking on the part of the main
actors. I should add, however, that in both cases there is one
obstacle to a purely rational-choice interpretation of these texts.
This is his tendency to deploy functional explanation, in which
events and institutions are explained on the grounds that they are
better for some agent or agents but not necessarily on the grounds
that they are chosen because they are better.
FUNCTIONAL EXPLANATION IN MARXISM
Functional explanation is puzzling and controversial, for reasons
that may be brought out by comparing it with other modes of
scientific explanation. In causal explanation, we account for a
phenomenon by citing its (actual) cause, assumed to have pre-
ceded it in time. In intentional explanation, of which rational-
choice explanation is the most important variety, we cite the
intended consequences of the phenomenon. Again the intention
occurs at an earlier time than the thing we want to explain by
citing it. In functional explanation, we cite the actual consequence
of the phenomenon in order to account for it. Marx, for instance,
explains upward social mobility by pointing to the economic bene-
fits the capitalist class derives from having a steady stream of fresh
recruits. The puzzle is how an event can be explained by another
event that occurs at a later time. There must be an explanation for
the event when it happens - it cannot be necessary to await the
consequences in order to explain it.
The most plausible solution to this puzzle is to deny that func-
tional explanation can account for single events or processes. For
something to be a proper object of functional explanation, it must
be a pattern of similar, recurring events. Let me give an example,
31
Marxist Methodology
cited only for the sake of illustration and not because I believe the
story it tells is true. If in a given capitalist society we observe
upward social mobility as a regular phenomenon. so that in each
generation some workers become self-employed or small cap-
italists. this pattern could be explained by the benefits provided to
the capitalist class. in the following way. Upward mobility in one
generation contributes to the economic vitality and prosperity of
capitalism. A prosperous system provides further opportunities for
mobility in the next generation. Moreover. that capitalism is seen
to deliver the goods provides it with legitimacy and channels indi-
vidual aspirations into desires for mobility within the system
rather than revolt against it. The opportunity and the desire for
mobility come together in creating. or re-creating. actual mobility.
Hence. upward mobility at one point in time has consequences
that lead to the continued presence of mobility at a later time.
The example shows that functional explanation involves a feed-
back loop. a causal connection from the consequences of one event
of the kind we are trying to explain to another. later event of the
same kind. Functional explanation is applicable when a pattern of
behavior maintains itself through the consequences it generates;
more specifically, through consequences that benefit some group.
which mayor may not be the same as the group of people display-
ing the behavior. In the mobility example the agents and those
whom they benefit are distinct groups. An example (again used
only for the sake of illustration) in which they coincide follows.
If the satisficing theory of choice is correct, firms do not and
cannot consciously maximize profits. Rather, they make decisions
by following rules of thumb that appear to be "good enough." In a
competitive market. however. only the firms that happen to hit
upon profit-maximizing rules of thumb will survive; the others
will go bankrupt. We can then explain the observed behavior of
firms by pointing to the beneficial consequences of their decision
rules. The reason we observe these particular rules ofthumb rather
than others is that they maximize the profit of the firm. The pattern
of explanation is similar to that of functional explanation in biolo-
gy, in which we explain the optimal adaptation of organisms by
appealing to chance variation and natural selection.
These two examples provide perfectly valid explanations. as-
32
Functional Explanation in Marxism
suming the truth oftheir premises. Why, then, object so strongly to
the use of functional explanation in Marxism? First, in Marx's
philosophy of history we find explanations of singular, nonrecur-
rent events in tenns of their unintended consequences. An argu-
ment of this type rests on a metaphysical impossibility. Second, in
many functional explanations - within and outside Marxism - the
feedback loop is not demonstrated but only postulated or tacitly
assumed. This, in fact. is the major objection. In the mobility ex-
ample, the suggested feedback loop is not proposed by Marx, nor
does he suggest any other mechanism that could support the
explanation.
The mere fact that an activity has beneficial consequences - be it
for capitalist domination, for social integration, or in some other
respect - is not sufficient to explain it. Any phenomenon can be
shown to benefit a number of groups or interests, especially if we
are allowed to vary the time perspective. For instance, Marx ar-
gued that state policies not in the short-term interest of capitalists
might - precisely because of that fact - be in their long-term
interest. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that this is in fact the
case, we still have no explanation. This would require the exhibi-
tion of a mechanism by which the satisfaction of long-tenn in-
terests generates or sustains the policies. In the absence of a dem-
onstrated mechanism, the benefits could, for all we know, be
purely accidental and hence nonexplanatory.
One important mode of Marxist explanation combines meth-
odological holism and functional explanation by asserting that the
behavior of a class can be explained by the beneficial conse-
quences for the class members. Consider the following explanation
of why technical change tends to be labor-saving rather than cap-
ital-saving. Labor-saving innovations are in the interest of Capital.
because they reduce the demand for labor and hence lower the
wage that workers have to be paid. The argument fails because it
provides no reason why the individual capitalist firm should prefer
this kind of innovation. In a competitive industry, a single finn is
too small to affect the going wage rate and hence has no incentive
to search for one kind of innovation rather than another. We are,
in fact, dealing with an example of the free-rider problem. The
argument that collectively optimal outcomes, when realized, are
33
Marxist Methodology
realized because they are collectively optimal is one of the most
frequent forms of functional explanation. It has two closely related
defects, in that it lacks both microfoundations and an appropriate
feedback mechanism.
DIALECTICS
"Dialectics" is a tenn that has been used with a number of mean-
ings. Common to almost all is the view that conflict, antagonism,
or contradiction is a necessary condition for achieving certain re-
sults. Contradiction between ideas may be a condition for reaching
truth; conflict among individuals, classes, or nations may be a
necessary condition for social change. This preliminary remark
suggests a distinction between a dialectical method and a dialec-
tical process, between dialectics as a feature of our thinking about
the world and dialectics as a feature of the world itself. On a
certain conception of dialectics, these are not alternative concep-
tions but complementary ones. The dialectical method reflects the
dialectical character of the world. Hegel apparently believed, at
least some of the time, that our views about the world have to be
contradictory because the world itself contains contradictions. This
view is hardly intelligible, and I shall not discuss it here.
Let us consider, therefore, the view that these are alternative
conceptions. We may then define the dialectical method as the
view that in order to arrive at the truth of a matter one does not
proceed by slowly and patiently refining earlier conceptions, delet-
ing what is wrong, retaining what is correct, and adding what is
missing. Rather, one goes from one extreme to another, discarding
what is valuable in the old view along with what ought properly to
be discarded. In a third stage one may be able to achieve a more
balanced view - but only because one has passed through the
extremes.
William Blake, an older contemporary of Hegel, expressed this
view in two succinct phrases: "Without Contraries is no Progres-
sion" and "You never know what is enough unless you know
what is more than enough." Hegel used different language. Some-
times he characterized the three stages as, respectively, thesis, an-
34
Dialectics
tithes is, and synthesis. In a different but essentially equivalent
terminology he referred to them as position, negation of the posi-
tion, and negation of the negation. The Hegelian terms have a fine
ring to them, but the phenomena they refer to are only the com-
monplace ones just described. Even if Hegel wanted to advocate a
special "dialectical logie," what remains valuable in his view can
be expressed in everyday language and logic. To be valuable, how-
ever, it should not be understood as asserting that this three-stage
process characterizes all thinking, or that it is likely to yield better
results than other procedures. Intellectual development does not
always proceed from one extreme to another, and when it does
truth need not benefit.
Dialectical processes in the world have similar stages. The most
important example of a dialectical process in Hegel and Marx is
probably the following three-step sequence, briefly mentioned
earlier. Society, they argued, begins as a primitive, undifferentiated
community. Persons are essentially similar to one another, with-
out distinctive character traits or different productive functions.
The community dominates the individual, who is left with little
scope for free choice or individual self-realization. The next stage,
the negation of the first one, occurs with the emergence of aliena-
tion (Hegel) or of class societies (Marx). It is characterized by an
extreme development of individuality and by an equally extreme
disintegration of community. The third stage, the negation of the
negation, restores commmunity without. however, destroying in-
dividuality. It i!i in this respect the synthesis of the two previous
stages.
This vision had a very powerful grip on Marx's mind. It shaped
his view of world history, his conception of political struggle and
tactics, his image of the communist society. It is related both to
methodological holism and to functional explanation, sharing,
therefore, the flaws of both. In other cases, however, three-stage
dialectical processes are less controversial. Consider, for instance,
the development from the naive religious belief of the child,
through a stage of doubt and despair, to the reflective belief of the
mature person. It is certainly arguable that the direct passage from
the first to the third stage is impossible. Even more plausibly, there
35
Marxist Methodolo9Y
is no going back from the third stage to the first. If we regard these
as the salient features of the negation of the negation. it appears as
a common although far from universal pattern. There is no "law"
of the negation of the negation. but the concept has a certain value
in directing our attention to problems we might otherwise have
overlooked.
There is no real connection between negation of the negation as
a feature of thought processes and negation of the negation as a
feature of historical processes. There is no reason. that is. why the
study of a three-stage dialectical process is more likely than other
intellectual developments to proceed in three dialectical stages. In
any case I insist on the very limited interest of dialectics - in
thought or in reality - as conceived in this manner. It does not
yield an operational method that can be applied with a promise of
good results within well-defined boundaries. nor does it yield sub-
stantive laws of historical development with definite predictions
for concrete cases. A cluster of vague. suggestive ideas. it does not
offer scientific tools with analytical cutting edges.
There is. however. another acceptance of the term "dialectics"
in which it does offer exactly that. It involves taking seriously.
indeed literally. the idea that the world contains contradictions. To
see that this view does not also involve us in contradictions. con-
sider the following propositions:
1. John Smith believes that it rains.
2. John Smith believes that it does not rain.
3. John Smith does not believe that it rains.
If we assert propositions 1 and 2 simultaneously. we make a
statement to the effect that the world contains contradictions. If we
assert 1 and 3 simultaneously. we make a contradictory statement.
This shows that a statement asserting the existence of contradic-
tions is not itself contradictory. This observation naturally pro-
vokes three queries. One might ask. first. how propositions 1 and 2
could ever obtain simultaneously. It is true that we do not often
observe this extreme form of contradictory belief systems. but
there are many less extreme cases of people entertaining beliefs
from which a logical contradiction can be derived. When people
believed in the possibility of trisecting the angle by using only ruler
36
Dialectics
and compass, they believed in something that involves a logical
contradiction - although it took a lot of hard work by mathemati-
cians to show that this was so.
One might also ask, secondly, whether the appeal to such con-
tradictory beliefs helps us understand the world better or whether
they are just a psycho-logical curiosity. To answer, let me change
the example. Propositions 1 through 3 could also have been stated
in terms of the desire for rain; hence, I shall give an example that
involves contradictory desires rather than contradictory beliefs. I
shift the ground not because I believe contradictory belief systems
are trivial but because focusing on desires allows me to consider
one of the best-known examples of dialectical reasoning in the
history of thought, Hegel's master-slave analysis in The Phe-
nomenology of Spirit, or rather an extremely simplified version of
that analysis.
The contradictory desire Hegel finds in the master is the desire
for a unilateral recognition. The master wants to be recognized by
the slave, but he does not want to recognize the slave in returt?-.
This constellation of desires is contradictory because recognition,
to be worth anything, must come from someone who is worth
recognizing. What most of us value highly is recognition by com-
petent others - by those whom we ourselves recognize. To be
recognized by someone whom we pay to lavish us with praise can
at most give a fleeting satisfaction; it is like transferring money
from one pocket to another, not like receiving an additional in-
come. Although strange, such strivings play an important part in
human behavior. Ideas that derive from - or are very similar to -
Hegel's analysis have been applied in studies ranging from Ameri-
can negro slavery to pathological family interactions.
One might then ask, thirdly, what all this has to do with Marx.
To answer, we must move from the psychological contradictions
considered so far to the realm of social contradictions. Let me
begin with an example that was made famous by John Maynard
Keynes but is already in Marx. It is a central paradox of capitalism
that each capitalist wants his workers to have low wages, because
this is good for his profits; yet he wants the workers employed by
all other capitalists to have high wages, because this creates a
demand for his products. Each capitalist, in other words, wants to
37
Marxist MethodoloDY
be in a position which, for purely logical reasons, not everyone can
occupy. Although the desire of each capitalist is internally con-
sistent, their desires taken together are contradictory. There is no
possible world in which they could all see their desires satisfied.
This is not merely a logical paradox. It is closely related to the
recurring crises in the capitalist economy. To see this, take a case
where loss of export markets leads to a fall in the demand for cars
and hence in the profits of the car industry. Automobile producers
will often react by laying off workers or by cutting their wages. For
simplicity, consider only the second response. From their local
point of view, the behavior of the firms is quite rational; yet it also
has consequences for other firms, because part of the demand for
their products comes from automobile workers. These firms will,
in a similarly rational response, also impose lower wages, thereby
hurting everybody else in the same way as they were themselves
hurt by the car producers. The end result of this vicious circle can
be a state of mass unemployment.
At each stage in this process a firm, by reducing wages, achieves
three things. It increases the profit margin on each product that it
sells. It slightly lowers the demand for its own product, because
part of that demand comes from the wages of workers employed in
the firm. With few exceptions, the first effect will dominate the
second, so that the firm does behave rationally in cutting wages.
(Henry Ford was wrong when he said that he had to pay his
workers well because otherwise they could not afford to buy his
cars.) By the same token the wage cut also leads to a slightly lower
demand for the products made by other firms. When all firms face
this situation, we have a Prisoner's Dilemma. It would be better for
all firms if all abstained from reducing wages, but any given firm
will always see wage cuts as an attractive proposition.
Marx was a pioneer in the study of social contradictions. Before
him, many writers had been fascinated by the fact that history is
"the result of human action, not of human design" (Adam Fer-
guson). Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees is perhaps the first
clear statement of this theme, which was later developed by,
among others, Adam Smith and Hegel. Yet in these writers there is
no clear analysis of the structure of unintended consequences such
38
Bibliography
as was provided by Marx. In his hands it was transformed from a
general Weltanschauung into a precision tool for the study of social
change. This was his most important methodological achievement.
In addition to these two versions of Marxist dialectics - the
theory of the negation of the negation and the theory of social
contradictions - there is what I referred to earlier as dialectical
deduction. In the Grundrisse and in the opening chapters of Capital I,
Marx attempts to deduce the main economic categories from one
another in a manner inspired by Hegel's procedure in The Science of
Logic. In that work Hegel argued that the most general meta-
physical categories are inherently unstable. The notion of being,
for instance, is apparently the most universal of all categories, so
universal that it is in fact empty and hence turns into its opposite,
nothing. Marx argues, similarly, that the concept of money has an
inherent tendency to develop into capital. Money, to preserve it-
self, must multiply itself - it must create a surplus, which means
that it becomes capital.
This deduction is part of a longer chain: product-commodity-
exchange value-money-capital-labor. Some of these concepts
also stand in a historical relation to each other: subsistence pro-
duction is historically prior to production for exchange, which in
turn is prior to production for profit. Although some of the transi-
tions make sense when seen as historical developments, the pur-
ported dialectical connection is unintelligible. Concepts have no
"logic of development" independently of the actions that men
undertake for purposes of their own.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Methodological individualism. A clear statement of this principle is in
George Homans, The Nature of Social Science (Harcourt, Brace and World,
1967). A classic statement of methodological holism is Emile Durkheim,
The Rules of Sociological Method; a more recent exposition is Charles Taylor,
"Interpretation and the sciences of man," Review of Metaphysics 25 (1971):
3-51. There are several useful discussions in May Brodbeck (ed.), Read-
ings in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Macmillan, 1968). The need for
microfoundations in Marxist economic theory is argued in John Roemer,
Analytical Foundations of Marxian Economics (Cambridge University Press,
39
Marxist Methodology
1981). For the distinction between the self-realization of Man and that of
men, see G. A. Cohen, "Karl Marx's dialectic of labour," Philosophy and
Public Affairs 3 (1974): 235-61.
Marxism and rational choice. An introduction to the basic concepts in
rational-choice theory is R. D. Luce and H. RaifIa, Games and Decisions
(Wiley, 1957). Arguments for the general applicability of the theory are
found in Gary Becker, The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (Chicago
University Press, 1976), and Raymond Boudon, The Unintended Conse-
quences of Social Action (St. Martin's Press, 1979). A good introduction to
the theory of "satisficing" is James March, "Bounded rationality, ambi-
guity, and the engineering of choice," Bell Journal of Economics 9 (1978):
587-608. An introduction to "rational-choice Marxism" is John Roemer
(ed.), Analytical Marxism (Cambridge University Press, 1986).
Functional explanation in Marxism. Good expositions of functional expla-
nation are Robert Merton, Soctal Theory and Social Structure (Free Press,
1968), and Arthur Stinchcombe, Constructing Social Theories (Harcourt,
Brace and World, 1968). The place offunctional explanation in Marxist
theory is discussed in G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford
University Press, 1978) and Philippe van Parijs, Evolutionary Explanation in
the Social Sciences (Row:man and Littlefield, 1981). An account of some
political implications of Marxist functionalism is Tang Tsou, "Back from
the brink of revolutionary-'feudal' totalitarianism," in V. Nee and D.
Mozingo (eds.), State and Society in Contemporary China (Cornell University
Press, 1983), pp. 53-88,268-75.
Dialectics. There are many good criticisms of the obscurantist aspects of
dialectics, such as Karl Popper, "What is dialectics?" Mind 49 (1940):
403-26, or H. B. Acton, "Dialectical materialism," in P. Edwards (ed.),
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Macmillan, 1968), 2: 389-97. I do not
know of any exposition of the "rational core" of dialectics that makes it
appear both plausible and nontrivial. The interpretation sketched here is
further elaborated in my Logic and Society (Wiley, 1978).
40
3
ALIENATION
INTRODUCTION
M
ARX found three main flaws in capitalism: inefficiency,
exploitation, and alienation. These play two distinct roles in
his theory. On the one hand, they enter into his normative assess-
ment of what is wrong with capitalism and, as the other side of
that coin, what is desirable about communism. On the other hand,
they are part of his explanation of the breakdown of capitalism
and the subsequent transition to communism. Clearly, the two
roles are related. By and large, the various reasons why capitalism
ought to be abolished also explain why it will be abolished. They
receive, however, somewhat different emphases in the different
parts of Marx's theory. The general theory of modes of production
assigns the most important role to inefficiency in explaining why
one mode is replaced by another. The theory of class struggle
accords the central place to exploitation. The relation between
these two explanatory theories will concern us later. In the nor-
mative theory, alienation is the most important concept. Marx
valued communism above all because it would abolish alienation,
in several senses of that term.
Does alienation playa role in the explanation of the breakdown
of capitalism? It is not clear that it does, or that it can do. Aliena-
tion can be described, very broadly, as the lack of a sense of mean-
ing. As such, it does not imply the sense of a lack of meaning. Only
the latter, however, could provide a motivation for action. Consid-
er the lack of self-realization, one of the main forms of alienation.
If it takes the form of an unsatisfied desire for self-realization, it
could motivate people to create a society in which the desire could
be satisfied, assuming that they believe such a society to be feasi-
41
Alienation
ble. If, however, people do not even have the desire, the fact that it
could be satisfied in an alternative social organization has no ex-
planatory power.
Neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt School have argued that the
worst aspect of capitalism is that people do not even know that
they are alienated. When they indulge in passive mass consump-
tion instead of actively striving for individual self-realization, it is
not because opportunities for the latter are lacking; it is because
they have no desire for it. This paternalist, elitist, and pessimistic
view was not held by Marx, at least not in the mature economic
writings. There he praised capitalism for creating rich needs that it
cannot satisfy, drawing a contrast between precapitalist societies in
which men felt relatively content within a small circle of desires
and the. capitalist mode of production that multiplies desires be-
yond the creation of means to satisfy them. These desires, howev-
er, cannot influence the course of history before a new social mode
that can satisfy them (on a mass scale) has become objectively
possible, as a result of the development of the productive forces.
Before that point, they are doomed to remain utopian. To sum-
marize:
Actual needs Satisfied needs Satisfiable needs
Adaptive preferences small small small
Subjective alienation large small large
Objective alienation small small large
Utopian preferences large small small
Communism large large large
Marx's concept of alienation, although of Hegelian origin, does
not mean quite the same thing as Hegel's. In Hegel, alienation is
the "negation" that mediates between primitive unity and differ-
entiated unity in the history of mankind; it is a lack of unity and
social integration. As such, it is a feature of Man, not of individual
men. Marx located the phenomenon of alienation in a similar
historical stage but at the level of individuals. This difference is
related to the difference between Marx's ethical individualism and
Hegel's ethical holism. Consistently with his methodological hol-
ism, Hegel believed that the creation of an organic community was
a value in itself, over and above what valuable consequences it
42
Lack of Self-realization
might have for individual men. Marx. on the other hand. took
opposed stances on the methodological and ethical issues.
ALIENATION: LACK OF SELF-REALIZATION
Marx believed that the good life for the individual was one of
active self-realization. Capitalism offers this opportunity to a few
but denies it to the vast majority. Under communism each and
every individual will live a rich and active life. Although it will be
closely bound up with the life of the community. it will be a life of
self-realization.
Self-realization. for Marx. can be defined as the full and free
actualization and externalization of the powers and abilities of the
individual. Consider first the fullness of self-realization. It was one
of Marx's more utopian ideas that under communism there will be
no more specialized occupations. There will be no more painters.
only people who among other things also paint. In a phrase from
The German Ideology that has perhaps been taken more seriously
than it was intended. people will hunt in the morning, fish in the
afternoon. rear cattle in the evening. and be critical critics after
dinner. The point is not simply that Marx neglects the need to
choose between being a jack of all trades and a master of (at most)
one. More importantly. this way of implementing the ideal of self-
realization would defeat itself. because it would not allow one to
benefit from the increasing marginal utility that is a major reason
for preferring this mode of activity over consumption. This point is
explained more fully later.
Even though self-realization cannot be full. it must be free. The
ideal of self-realization is not compatible with society's coercing
people to develop socially valuable talents at the expense of those
they want to develop. The reason is that the "self" enters twice
into the notion of self-realization. first as the designer and then as
the raw material ofthe process. The person is endowed. on the one
hand. with certain natural talents and capacities and. on the other
hand. with a desire to develop some of them rather than others.
The motivation behind self-realization derives from this peculiarly
intimate relation.
The freedom of self-realization cannot imply that a good society
43
Alienation
will guarantee people the right to develop their preferred talents. If
many people used this right to choose forms of self-realization that
are very demanding of material resources, without a correspond-
ing number choosing to realize themselves in ways that contribute
to the creation of resources, the social account would not balance.
True, Marx may be read as saying that communist society will be
in a state of absolute abundance, with no material scarcity to
constrain self-realization. On this interpretation, the freedom of
self-realization would be as utopian as the fullness. A more char-
itable reading suggests, however, the weaker notion of freedom as
lack of coercion. People might have to choose second-best or
third-best lines of self-realization if they cannot find the material
resources for their preferred option, but it would still be their
choice, not someone else's.
Consider now the notion of self-realization itself. Corresponding
to its two sources in Aristotle and Hegel, it may be decomposed
into self-actualization and self-extemalization. Self-actualization
involves a two-step process of transforming a potential into actu-
ality. The first step is the development of a potential ability into an
actual one; the second is the deployment of the ability. A person
who knows no French has the potential to speak French, at two
removes from actuality. The potential of a person who knows
French perfectly but is currently conversing in English is only one
step removed. Self-extemalization is the process whereby the
powers of the individual become observable to other people. By
acting and speaking in the presence of others, the person makes
the self part of the public domain, with the risks and benefits that
implies. The risk is that the self-image may be destroyed if it is not
confirmed by others; the benefit, that it may achieve substance and
solidity if it is so confirmed. In Freudian language, self-extemaliza-
tion involves the transition from the Pleasure Principle to the Real-
ity Principle. Note that there can be self-actualization without self-
extemalization. The development of the ability to appreciate music
or wine is an example.
There are two complementary questions we need to ask about the
ideal of self-realization. First, what are its attractions compared to
that of other life styles? Second, given those attractions, why is it
44
Lack of Self-realization
not more frequently chosen over the alternatives? When suggesting
answers to these questions I shall only compare self-realization and
consumption, although these do not exhaust all the possibilities.
Some people devote their lives to friendship or to contemplation.
Because Marx does not consider these options, one might object
that his is an impoverished view of human nature. One may reply
on his behalf that only consumption and self-realization are proper
objects of political philosophy, because unlike the other activities
they compete for scarce material resources.
Two reasons for valuing self-realization derive from the two
elements into which it was decomposed. Compare playing the
piano with eating lamb chops. The first time one practices the
piano it is difficult, even painfully so. By contrast, most people
enjoy lamb chops the first time they eat them. Over time, however,
these patterns are reversed. Playing the piano becomes increasing-
ly more rewarding, whereas the taste for lamb chops becomes
satiated and jaded with repeated, frequent consumption. Activities
of self-realization are subject to increasing marginal utility: They
become more enjoyable the more one has already engaged in
them. Exactly the opposite is true of consumption. To derive sus-
tained pleasure from consumption, diversity is essential. Diversity,
on the other hand, is an obstacle to successful self-realization, as it
prevents one from getting into the later and more rewarding
stages. Because diversity also tends to be more expensive, this
difference gives one reason for preferring self-realization over
consumption.
The preceding argument appealed to the properties of self-actu-
alization. Another argument derives from self-externalization.
Doing something that is esteemed by other people is the most
important source of self-esteem. Self-esteem, in tum, is what pro-
vides us with the motivation for going on with the business of
living. Although not in itself a source of happiness, it is the basic
condition for deriving happiness and satisfaction from other
sources. Consumption, to be valuable, presupposes something that
is not consumption.
Self-esteem can also be derived from self-externalization with-
out self-actualization - from doing or producing something that
45
Alienation
others esteem sufficiently to pay for it, even if the work itself is
monotonous and boring. What about the converse possibility?
Self-actualization that remains inner and mute does not provide a
durable satisfaction. The pleasures of self-actualization come not
simply from using one's powers but from using them well. The
evaluation must be performed by external observers according to
independent, public criteria; otherwise one would sink into a mo-
rass of subjectivity, never knowing for sure whether one's achieve-
ments are real or spurious.
If self-realization really has these advantages, why is it not more
frequently chosen? The answer could be the lack of opportunity,
the lack of desire, or both. It is not easy in any industrial society to
organize production in a way that combines efficiency with oppor-
tunities for individual self-realization. Neither assembly line work
nor supervision of control screens is particularly rewarding in it-
self. Marx's models of self-realization are the artist, the scientist, or
the preindustrial artisan, not the industrial worker. Although he
always insisted that there was no turning back from industrial
production, he did not really explain how there could be room for
creative work in the modern factory, except for some remarks
about the increasing importance of science in production.
We need to distinguish, however, between the obstacles to self-
realization that stem from the nature of industrial production and
those that derive from the capitalist organization of industry. In a
socialist society the opportunities for self-realization might be mul-
tiplied. The state could encourage innovations that would facilitate
efficient small-scale production. Individual firms, if owned and
operated by the workers, could decide to organize production
along lines more conducive to self-realization. Economic democ-
racy itself could provide an outlet for self-realization, through par-
ticipation in the decision-making processes of the finn.
Such reforms, however, presuppose a widespread desire for self-
realization. If we look at contemporary Western societies, it is far
from obvious that they would have much support. To some extent
the lack of desire for self-realization may be explained by the lack
of opportunities. People often end up not wanting what they can-
not get, as in the fable of the fox and the grapes. There are, howev-
er, more specific reasons for the resistance to the ideal of self-
46
Lack of Self-realization
realization. They can be summed up, briefly, as myopia, risk aver-
sion, and free riding.
Myopia is the tendency to prefer present welfare over future
welfare, just because it is present. A myopic person has difficulties
in carrying out plans with the pattern "One step backward, two
steps fOlWard." because he or she will be deterred by the short-
term sacrifice required. This. however. is exactly the pattern of
self-realization. It requires a measure of self-controL of willingness
to endure the less rewarding stages of self-actualization.
It also requires some willingness to take risks. A feature of self-
realization not mentioned so far is that it is surrounded by uncer-
tainty. It is difficult to know in advance exactly what gifts and
talents one has. A given line of activity could turn out to be too easy
and lead to boredom or too difficult and lead to frustration. For most
people. frustration - trying and failing - is probably worse than
boredom - succeeding too easily. If they are risk-averse. they will
tend to choose the less ambitious vehicle for self-realization. which
implies that on the average there will be less of it.
Self-realization. if successful, benefits the individual engaging in
it. It may also. however. benefit others. if the chosen vehicle is
technical, scientific. or artistic innovation. This poilUs to a possible
free-rider problem. It might be better for all risk-averse individuals
if all behaved as if they were risk takers. because there would then
be more innovation from which they could all benefit. Yet each
individual would find it even better to be a free rider, benefiting
from the risk-taking efforts of others while playing it safe for
himself.
The combination of myopia, risk aversion, and free riding is a
powerful force working against self-realization. Indeed, it works
against it in two ways. In a society where there existed oppor-
tunities for self-realization, these attitudes would create the difficul-
ties that I have described. People might believe that self-realization,
abstractly speaking, is a good thing and yet not feel personally
motivated to engage in it. Moreover, the same attitudes would
stand in the way for a reform movement to create a society with
more opportunities. The individual benefits of any large-scale re-
form process are remote in time. surrounded by uncertainty, and
not dependent on individual participation. People might believe
47
Alienation
that socialism, abstractly speaking, is a good thing and yet not feel
any personal motivation to bring it about. To overcome these
obstacles, farsightedness and solidarity would be needed.
Alienation, in the present sense of the term, may be understood
in several ways. It could simply mean the absence of self-realiza-
tion. It could mean the absence of opportunities for self-realiza-
tion, with or without the desire for self-realization. It could mean
the presence of an ineffective desire for self-realization - that is, a
desire blocked by myopia, risk aversion, or free riding - with or
without opportunities for self-realization. Marx placed almost ex-
clusive emphasis on the lack of opportunities for self-realization in
capitalism. He also emphasized, however, that capitalism creates
the material basis for another society in which the full and free
self-realization of each and every individual becomes possible.
Communism arises when this basis has been created. It is not clear
whether he thought communism would arise when and because
this basis has been created and, if he did, how the desire to over-
come alienation is related to his other explanations of the break-
down of capitalism.
Is the value of self-realization compatible with that of communi-
ty? Are they not rather on a course of head-on collision? Marx was
very concerned with this issue. He wanted to distinguish commu-
nism from what Hegel had called "the spiritual animal kingdom" -
a society of rampantly individualistic, competitive persons striving
for their own personal self-realization at the expense of everything
and everybody else. Of the several ways in which self-realization
and community can be reconciled, he stressed one: self-realization
for others. The bond of community arises from the knowledge that
other people appreciate the activity or the product that is the vehicle
of my self-realization, and that I similarly enjoy the external man-
ifestation of their self-realization. This is not a reference to the
community of creator-observers, which is implicit in the concept of
self-externalization and is presupposed even in the most com-
petitive forms of self-realization. It is a community of consumer-
producers.
This reconciliation might be feasible in the small face-to-face
communities of the past in which each producer knew his custom-
ers personally. Industrial societies, however, are depersonalized in
48
Lack of Autonomy
two ways that combine to render it implausible. The social nature
of production makes it impossible for any individual to point to
any product as his; also, production for a mass market breaks the
personal bond between producer and consumer. The idea that a
person can have a feeling of community by knowing that he pro-
duces for "society" has no root in individual psychology.
A more plausible way of reconciling the two values is through
production with others, or joint self-realization. Examples could
be a small fishing vessel, a football team, a symphony orchestra, or
decision making in direct economic democracy. In such interac-
tions, we see the point of a remark in the Communist Manifesto: The
free development of each becomes the condition for the free devel-
opment of all. Again, it is not clear that industrial production lends
itself easily to this synthesis. The historical trend seems to suggest
that integrated work processes and self-realization in work are
competing goals rather than complementary. The assembly line
achieves a maximum of integration with a minimum of self-real-
ization. Again, however, this might be due to the capitalist organi-
zation of industry rather than to the nature of industrial work.
ALIENATION: LACK OF AUTONOMY
Social action may be understood at many levels. The immediate
appearance is that people act freely and rationally to promote their
ends, whatever these might be. Capitalism, in particular, has ex-
panded the realm of freedom by making the scope for choice much
greater than in any earlier form of society. Marx did not deny that
freedom of choice in this sense is valuable. He added, however,
that under capitalism it is twisted and subverted, at both ends, as it
were. On the one hand, the formation of the desires occurs
through a process the individual does not understand and with
which he does not identify. Often, his own desires appear to him
as alien powers, not as freely chosen. On the other hand the real-
ization of the desires is often frustrated by lack of coordination and
common planning. The aggregate outcome of individual actions
appears as an independent and even hostile power, not as freely
and jointly willed. The individuals are caught in the middle: be-
tween unintelligible psychological forces that shape their desires
49
Alienation
and equally opaque social forces that thwart them. The thin slice of
freedom left after the operation of these forces now appears much
less valuable.
Conversely, communism will do away with all processes operat-
ing "behind the back" of the individuals. Individuals will finally
be autonomous - in full control not only over their actions but
over the causes and the consequences of those actions. Individual
psychology and social causality will become fully transparent.
With respect to the economic study of capitalism, Marx wrote that
all science would be superfluous if the essence of things coincided
immediately with their appearance. In communism this coinci-
dence will indeed obtain and will do away with the need for a
social science.
Consider first the psychological. "subintentional." causal forces
that operate behind the back of the individual. Although one can-
not really say that Marx had a psychological theory, there are
some remarks, notably in The German Ideology, that can be taken as
a starting point for reflection. He suggests that in capitalism the
desires of the individual are flawed in two ways: They tend to be
one-sided as well as compulsive. The complaint about one-sided-
ness derives from the ideal of full self-realization, which I dis-
cussed and dismissed as utopian. It is also somewhat inconsistent
with what Marx says about some of the great achievements in the
past. He writes that Milton wrote Paradise Lost as a silkworm spins
silk: because it was an activity of his nature. This is surely a more
plausible view than that Milton could have taken time off, while
writing Paradise Lost, to develop and deploy other talents.
This example also shows that there need not be anything objec-
tionable about compulsive desires, if understood as desires so
strong that they overwhelm all others. One may, however, justly
object to compulsive desires if understood as desires with which
the individual does not identify and which lead him to act in ways
he does not understand and that give him no pleasure. Marx sug-
gests that in capitalism the desire for consumption - as opposed to
the desire for self-realization - tends to take on a compulsive
character. Capitalism creates an incentive for producers to seduce
consumers, by inducing in them new desires to which they then
become enslaved. The desire for consumption goods creates a de-
50
Lack of Autonomy
sire for the money that buys goods. This desire, though initially a
derived one, takes on an independent existence in the compulsive
desire to hoard precious metals; compulsive consumption gives
way to the compulsive postponement of consumption charac-
teristic of the miser. The perversion of human nature reaches its
summit in the thirst for money for its own sake.
This analysis, though valuable and influential, has its limita-
tions. It is not true that all or even most consumption in capitalist
societies is compulsive. Without denying the importance of con-
spicuous consumption, "keeping up with the neighbors," and in-
sidious techniques of consumer persuasion, I believe that most
consumption satisfies needs that no one need be ashamed of hav-
ing and, moreover, satisfies them in a perfectly respectable way.
Conversely, compulsive desires for consumption goods will to
some extent exist also in communism, or indeed in any society,
because of the inherent addictive ness of many forms of consump-
tion. Although the marginal utility of consumption is usually de-
creasing, the marginal disutility of not consuming - the strength of
the withdrawal symptoms - may increase. Even if consumption
were to be replaced by self-realization as the dominant value,
there would still remain a good deal of consumption to which this
argument would apply.
In any case, Marx's psychology is too simple. The distinction
between compulsion and autonomy does not do justice to the
complexities of human motivation. A stylized Freudian view ap-
pears more plausible. On this account, the autonomy of the person
is threatened from two sides: by the tendency toward excessively
impulsive or myopic behavior that Freud referred to as the Id and
by the tendency toward rigid and compulsive behavior that he
called the Superego. We may add, moreover, that the com-
pulsiveness often arises because we are too successful in our strat-
egies for coping with impulsive behavior: We become so afraid of
yielding to pleasurable temptations that we lose all capacity for
experiencing pleasure. The desirable balance, in which both
threats are kept in abeyance, requires what is variously referred to
as autonomy, ego strength, and toleration of ambiguity.
These problems derive from deep biological facts about human
beings. They are not caused by capitalism, nor will they disappear
51
Alienation
with communism. This is not to say that the extent ofthe problems
and the ability to deal with them are independent of historical
context. The Victorians erred in their strong emphasis on self-
control; other societies have erred in the opposite direction. Nev-
ertheless, the desirable balance is fragile and vulnerable, too unsta-
ble to be achieved by all of the people all of the time.
The social or "supraintentional" causality that frustrates our
desires has already been discussed. Some additional points can be
made, however. We need to distinguish more clearly than Marx
did between lack of transparence and lack of control. Consider first
a case where the lack of control stems from the opacity of social
causality and where, as the other face of the coin, insight suffices
for control. Hog producers used to have a frustrating experience:
Whenever they expected hog prices to be high and acted on that
expectation, the opposite turned out to be the case. Conversely,
when they expected low prices they got very good ones. One
natural response could be to blame this on the weather, the gov-
ernment, or other external circumstances. In reality, however, the
farmers were caught in a web of their own making. The expecta-
tions of high prices led them to produce more hogs than usual,
which of course drove prices down; the expectation of low prices
was self-undermining in the same way. Once the causality was
clearly understood, and known to be understood, the cyclical fluc-
tuations were eliminated. A self-fulfilling set of expectations
emerged, stabilizing both prices and production.
In Keynesian wage cutting, however, insight does not improve
the situation. In that case, as in any Prisoner's Dilemma, the strat-
egy that leads to the collectively undesirable outcome has compel-
ling individual rationality. Whether or not other firms cut wages,
wage cutting is best for the individual firm. Understanding that
other firms also cut wages and that together they make the situa-
tion worse for themselves than if they had all refrained from wage
cutting makes no difference to the firm's behavior. The situation,
although fully transparent, is out of control. To get it in hand,
concerted action would be needed. This is exactly Marx's point:
Only by coordinating their choices according to a common plan
can people achieve freedom with respect not only to action but to
52
Lack of Autonomy
the consequences of action. Otherwise, they are condemned in
perpetuity to playing the sorcerer's apprentice.
Such collective lack of control is not unique to capitalism. Any
market economy will be vulnerable to similar paradoxes of de-
centralized decision making. In particular, this holds for "market
socialism," in which firms owned by the workers trade with each
other in the market. Marx was very skeptical toward systems of
this kind. His indictment of capitalism rested as much on the alien-
atiOn created by horizontal division between firms and individuals
as on the exploitation created by vertical division within firms. It is
not just that market economies are unstable and their causality
opaque. Even more importantly, in his eyes, markets operate by
arm's-length transactions that subvert communitarian values and
make people into mere means to one another's satisfaction. In The
German Ideology Marx refers to this as "mutual exploitation." (This
notion of exploitation differs from that of Capital, in which exploi-
tation is necessarily asymmetrical.)
Yet any such indictment is incomplete as long as we are not told
what the alternatives are. Today we know that central planning,
which was the alternative Marx offered, has paradoxes that more
than match those of the market system. Planning agencies are not
monolithic units that make decisions and execute them as one
single agent but complex social systems. The planning agents tend
to undermine the plan by pursuing their own personal or bureau-
cratic interests. And even if their goals coincided perfectly with the
common interest, their efforts would be frustrated by the enor-
mous problem of gathering the information required for efficient
planning. With respect to transparence and control. a centrally
planned economy fares even worse than a market economy. A
mixed economy, however, is superior to either pure form. On the
one hand, market economies - capitalist or socialist - can to some
extent be stabilized by macroeconomic planning; on the other
hand, the state can provide certain public goods that the market
fails to offer because it is not in the interest of any individual
producer to do so. The "mutual exploitation" part of the indict-
ment is undercut by the fact that any complex economy must be
anonymous and depersonalized to a very large extent. In this re-
53
Alienation
spect central planning fares no worse and no better than reliance
on markets.
These conclusions match that of the earlier discussion of self-
realization. Marx concluded too rapidly that all the ills he observed
in capitalism were due to capitalism. In reality, some of them are
due to the nature of industrial work, others to biological facts
about human beings, still others to problems inherent in coordi-
nating complex activities. One utopian strand in his thinking was
the overestimation of the degree to which each of the various evils
of capitalism could be overcome. Another was his refusal to con-
sider the possibility that it might not be possible to overcome all of
them simultaneously to the degree that each of them could be
overcome separately. The belief that all good things go together
and the refusal to consider trade-off's between values are charac-
teristic of utopian thinking.
Marx, nevertheless, prided himself that his socialism was scien-
tific, not utopian. In this he was not totally wrong. Unlike many of
his predecessors, he emphasized that communism could not arise
until capitalism itself had created the requisite material conditions.
Pure will was not sufficient to bring it about. Yet in spite of his
realism with respect to the historical conditions for communism,
his conception of that system itself was massively utopian. This
fact detracts from his achievement; it does not destroy it. Stated
with more realism and more sensitivity to the need for making
hard choices, the ideals of self-realization and autonomy remain
supremely valuable.
ALIENATION: THE RULE OF CAPITAL OVER LABOR
In any productive process, Marx argued, all factors of production
ultimately resolve into labor. He distinguished between living la-
bor and dead labor - the first being the labor expended by workers
during the production process, the second the labor embodied in
the means of production. The produced means of production thus
form a link between past, present, and future generations of work-
ers. A mechanic in a machine tool shop works with machines
produced by earlier workers to produce tools to be used by later
workers.
54
The Rule of Capital over Labor
These features of industrial work are perverted and distorted in
capitalism. Here, the dead labor that is present alongside living
labor in the production process appears as an alien and hostile
power - as capital. Marx distinguishes between two stages in
capital's domination of labor. In the first stage there is a merely
"formal subsumption" of labor under capital. The capitalist ex-
ploits the worker through his ownership of the means of produc-
tion but does not extend his domination to the process of produc-
tion. This stage can be observed in the "putting-out" system of
early capitalism. Here a capitalist provided a worker with raw
materials and paid him a wage to transform them into a finished
product - wool into cloth, for instance. In the second stage, the
"real subsumption" of labor under capital, the capitalist moves
into the process of production itself. This development culminates
in factory production, in which the worker is reduced to an appen-
dage of the machinery. Although in the first stage he had consider-
able freedom of movement, he must now work in step with the
machines, under close, coercive supervision.
In both stages the worker is exploited by capital. By virtue of his
ownership of capital, the capitalist can appropriate part of what
the worker has produced. In the second stage there is an additional
form of domination, in that the worker loses all autonomy and
personal satisfaction from work. Capital is now more than a claim
on surplus; it has become a tangible force that drains the worker of
all energy and cripples all his talents. In Hegelian terminology,
Objective Spirit dominates Subjective Spirit; in Marxist language,
dead labor dominates living labor.
The irony and tragedy, for Marx, is that labor becomes the
means to its own enslavement. The capital goods are products of
human labor, which in turn come to dominate it. The root of this
idea is the critique of religion that he took over from Ludwig
Feuerbach. Marx assimilated the rule of dead labor to the religious
fiction that represents men as created by a divine being whom, in
reality, they have themselves created. Although these phenomena
have a family resemblance to the theme of the sorcerer's appren-
tice, they go beyond it in an important respect. If I fail to control
the consequences of my actions, I need not be or believe myself to
be under anyone else's control. Being helpless and frustrated is not
55
Alienation
the same as being dominated. In particular, alienation-as-frustra-
tion, unlike alienation-as-subjection, is a fate that can be shared by
everybody.
Alienation-as-subjection, though closely linked to exploitation,
is not equivalent to it. Alienation adds to exploitation a belief on
the part of the workers that the capitalist has a legitimate claim on
the surplus, by virtue of his legitimate ownership of the means of
production. The ownership, in tum, is seen as legitimate because
derived from a legitimate appropriation of surplus at some earlier
time. The efficacy of capitalist exploitation rests on its ability to
perpetuate the conditions under which it appears as morally legiti-
mate. Marx tells us that the recognition by labor of the products as
its own and the judgment that the separation of labor from the
products is unjust are the beginning of the end of capitalism. Al-
ienation in this sense does not offer the workers a motivation to
abolish capitalism; on the contrary, it blunts any such motivation.
FETISHISM
The capitalist economy secretes illusions about itself. There is the
illusion that workers are free to escape exploitation, the illusion
that capitalists are entitled to their ownership of the means of
production, and the illusion that commodities, money, and capital
have properties and powers of their own. The last Marx refers to as
fetishism, with a reference to the religions that endow inanimate
objects with supernatural powers. Economic fetishism begins as
spontaneously arising illusions of everyday economic life and then
solidifies into economic doctrine. Economists codify the natural
illusions of the economic agents.
There are two ways of ascribing properties to objects. Both have
the same surface grammatical form: A is F. The book is red, the
man is tall, the woman is rich. They differ, however, at a deeper
level. The height of a person is a quality that inheres in him quite
independently of social context. Wealth, on the other hand, can
only be predicated of a person who is inserted in a web of social
relations. It makes sense to say that Robinson Crusoe on his island
was tall. not that he was rich, even if perhaps he brought some
gold coins along with him. To be rich means that other people are
56
Fetishism
willing to exchange their goods or labor for your money. Being
rich, unlike being tall, is a relational predicate.
Economic fetishism, generally speaking, is the tendency to ne-
glect the hidden or implicit relational structure of economic predi-
cates. There are several kinds of fetishism, corresponding to differ-
ent economic categories. Commodity fetishism is the belief that
goods possess value just as they have weight, as an inherent prop-
erty. To the unmystified mind, it is clear that a commodity has
exchange value only because it stands in certain relations io
human labor and human needs. In the bewitched world of com-
modity fetishism, however, goods appear to exchange at a certain
rate because oftheir inherent values. Such, at any rate, was Marx's
argument. It is somewhat unconvincing, because it is hard to be-
lieve that anyone ever committed this particular fallacy.
In other cases Marx's accusation of fetishism is more to the
point. Money fetishism, in particular, is amply documented in
history. This is the belief that money, especially in the form of
precious metals, is inherently productive - not just a symbol of
wealth but real wealth in its own right. The mercantilists and
cameralists of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were
obsessed with the accumulation of precious metals. They believed,
for instance, that a war could never be lost as long as gold and
silver remained in the country - as if the metals could serve as
food for soldiers and ammunition for guns. Even today, the mone-
tary veil is often difficult to transpierce. Money fetishism is at work
when trade unions define their goals in terms of nominal wages,
independently of their purchasing power. The real economy is
subject to hard constraints, but the monetary economy easily cre-
ates an illusion that it is possible to get something for nothing. In
real terms a situation may be like a Prisoner's Dilemma in which
everyone loses, but in monetary terms they may be able to deceive
themselves into thinking they have gained.
Capital fetishism is the belief that capital's power to produce is a
faculty inherent in it, not one it owes to the labor process. Both
workers and capitalists are liable to this error. When a capitalist
brings many workers together and their productivity increases
more than proportionately to the number of workers, it appears to
them, Marx argued, as if the extra productive power is due to
57
Alienation
capital. The capitalist falls into a similar illusion when facing the
choice between investing his capital in production and depositing
it in a bank to draw interest on it. Because from his point of view
these actions are equally profitable, it is easy for him to think that
they are equally productive. To dispel the illusion, it suffices to go
through the thought experiment of imagining what would happen
if all capitalists simultaneously took the second option.
The fetishism of interest-bearing capital and the closely related
money fetishism correspond to widespread illusions about the re-
lation between real and monetary accounting. The other forms of
fetishism are less important. In particular, it is difficult to see why
commodity fetishism has received so much attention, unless it is
because it has been confused with other market-related phe-
nomena. Commodity fetishism does not refer to the fact that one
turns into a commodity something that ought not to be a marketa-
ble object, as in commercialized art or prostitution. Nor is it syn-
onymous with "mutual exploitation" in market transactions. It is
a cognitive illusion arising from market transactions, not a morally
deplorable feature of markets.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Self-realization. A thoughtful discussion of this aspect of alienation is John
Plamenatz, Karl Marx's Philosophy of Man (Oxford University Press, 1975).
The comparison between the temporal structure of self-realization and
consumption draws on Richard Solomon and John Corbit, "An oppo-
nent -process theory of motivation," Psychol09ical Review 81 (1974): 119-
45. Useful discussions of self-realization through work are E. A. Locke,
"Nature and causes of job satisfaction," in M. D. Dunnette (ed.), Handbook
of Industrial and Or9anizational Psychology (Rand McNally College Publish-
ing Co., 1976), pp. 1297-1349; J. R. Hackman, "Improving work de-
sign," in J. R. Hackman and J. L. Suttle (eds.), Improvin9 Life at Work
(Goodyear, 1977), pp. 96- I 62; G. E. O'Brien, "The centrality of skill-
utilization for job design," in K. D. Duncan, M. M. Gruneberg, and D.
Wells (eds.), Changes in Workin9 Life (Wiley, 1980), pp. 167-87.
Autonomy. For an analysis of Marx's view that social causality in com-
munism will be perfectly transparent, see G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory
of History (Oxford University Press, 1978), app. 2. For some reasons why
this view is implausible, see Raymond Boudon, The Unintended Conse-
58
Bibliography
quences of Social Action (5t. Martin's Press, 1979). An economist's critique
of consumer society is Tibor Scitovsky, The Joyless Economy (Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1976). The best philosophical analysis is Raymond Geuss,
The Idea of a Critical Theory (Cambridge University Press, 1981). The styl-
ized Freudian theory is fully developed in George Ainslie, "A behavioral
economic approach to the defence mechanism," Social Science Information
21 (1982): 735-80.
The rule of capital over labor. A good account of the self-perpetuating
nature of exploitation is D. M. Nuti, "Capitalism, socialism, and steady
growth," Economic Journal 80 (1970): 32-57.
Fetishism. The best account is chapter 5 in Cohen, Marx's Theory of
History.
4
MARXIAN ECONOMICS
INTRODUCTION
C
APIT AL I was published in 1867. That date marks the end of
classical economics. It is generally agreed that modern eco-
nomics was born around 1870, with the almost simultaneous
achievements of Jevons in England, Walras in Switzerland, and
Menger in Austria. Political bias apart, Marx's economic theory fell
on deaf ears because it came at the wrong time. After his death it
kept on a separate existence, interacting little with the mainstream
of economic thought and undergoing little development. There
were spurts of activity in the 1930s with the development of
Keynesian Marxism, and then again in the 1960s with the suc-
cessful Marxist refutation of a central part of neoclassical econom-
ics, as the mainstream has come to be called. These achievements
did not, however, create a set of problems, theories, and concepts
with a momentum of their own. Today Marxian economics is,
with a few exceptions, intellectually dead. This, to be sure, is a
subjective opinion. If one were to go by objective, quantitative
facts, one would conclude that Marxian economics is flourishing.
One observes all the normal signs of academic activity: specialized
journals, "invisible colleges," appointments at major universities.
Moreover, the technical rigor and mathematical sophistication of
modern Marxian economics have done away with some of the
obscurantism that used to reign unchallenged. It turns out, how-
ever, that it is possible to be obscurantist in a mathematically
sophisticated way, if the techniques are applied to spurious
problems.
The 1870 revolution introduced two closely related changes.
First, it shifted the focus in economic theory from macroeconomic
60
Introduction
issues of growth and distribution toward microeconomic problems
of economic decision making. Second, it introduced "marginalist"
techniques, a branch of applied mathematics tailor-made for the
study of rational choice. To get a flavor of the method, consider a
typical economic problem: How many workers should a firm hire?
The marginalist approach is to ask: How many workers does the
firm have to hire before it becomes indifferent between hiring one
extra worker and not hiring one? The argument assumes that all
other factors of production (machinery, raw materials, etc.) are
kept constant. Similar analyses may be carried out for each of
these, enabling the firm to arrive at an overall decision of how
much to buy of each factor.
On the one hand, an extra worker makes an addition to the total
output of the firm. Typically, the additional output (the marginal
product) decreases as the number of previously hired workers
increases. The additional income to the firm may decrease even
faster, if a higher output drives the price down. The firm will suffer
from a reduced price on all the products it sells, not just on the
products made by the newly hired worker. On the other hand, the
firm has to consider the cost of hiring an extra worker. If the wage
rate is given, it will hire workers up to the point where the extra
net income created by one worker equals the wage. It could hap-
pen, however, that the demand for more workers drives the wage
rate up; again, this will affect all workers, not just the last one to be
hired. In that case the firm will hire workers up to the point where
net income from an additional worker equals the total cost - his
wage plus the wage increase he induces for all other workers - of
hiring him.
This simple analysis rests on a number of presuppositions to
which Marxists tend to take exception. First, there is the idea that
each factor of production (labor in the example) has positive, al-
though decreasing marginal productivity. Marx believed that pro-
duction took place with "fixed coefficients," which means that the
factors of production, to be productive, must be used in certain
rigid proportions. If the factors are employed in these proportions,
hiring an extra worker yields no extra output. Second, the analysis
presupposes that the supply of workers can depend on the wage
rate, that is. that workers are sometimes induced to work - or to
61
Marxian Economics
work more - by higher wages. The Marxist view, on the contrary,
is that workers are forced to sell their labor power. Third, it was
presupposed that the firm, to sell all its products, must set the price
lower the more it wants to sell. The price depends on how much
the least interested customer is willing to pay. Marx, on the other
hand, argued that price is determined by cost, not by demand.
Of these disagreements, the first can be definitely resolved: Marx
was wrong. An extra worker does make it possible to use given
machines and raw materials more efficiently. Keeping in mind that
similar statements hold for the other factors of production, this
creates much more scope for entrepreneurial deliberation and
choice than Marx allowed. The other disagreements are more am-
biguous. A Marxist could argue that in perfect competition the
individual firm must take wages and prices for given; indeed, per-
fect competition is defmed by the assumption that each firm is too
small to affect factors and product prices. To this one may reply,
first, that in the age of "monopoly capitalism" economics also
needs to study imperfect competition and, second, that even in
perfect competition the Marxist analysis is inadequate. Even as-
suming no relation at the firm level between the wage rate and the
number of workers employed, the fact that there is such a relation
at the national level conflicts with the view that workers are forced
to sell their labor power. Similarly, even though an individual firm
can take the price of its product as a given outcome of market
forces, demand is an element of the latter and, as such, can affect
prices.
The upshot of this discussion is that Marxian economics errs by
exaggerating the importance of structural constraints and by mini-
mizing the scope for rational choice. Workers and capitalists make
decisions by comparing alternatives and choosing the one that best
will promote their goals. Workers face the choice between more
leisure and a higher income, a choice complicated by the fact that
without money it may be difficult to fill the leisure time. The fact
that this problem was unimportant in English capitalism around
1850 does not imply that it can justifiably be neglected in contem-
porary, more affluent capitalist societies. Capitalists must compare
the effects - direct and indirect, positive and negative - of different
combinations of factors of production. They must also consider
62
The Labor Theory of Value
which employee career structure is most profitable for the firm,
how much to spend on advertising, and a number of other deci-
sion problems that hardly existed in Marx's time. Only by blatantly
ignoring economic reality could one say that all these choices are
foreordained by economic necessity.
Microeconomics is not all of economics, however. Although
methodological individualism tells us that all economic theory
ought ultimately to be rooted in the theory of individual economic
decisions, there are many branches of economics in which this
program is not yet practicable and in which the units of analysis
are some kind of aggregate entities. Keynesian macroeconomics is
a theory of aggregate saving, investment, and consumption whose
microfoundations remain shaky. The neoclassical theory of dis-
tribution and growth turns on the relation among aggregate cap-
ital, aggregate labor, and aggregate output. Although Marxist
economists have done an excellent job in showing that this theory
fails because of lack of microfoundations, they have not been
equally critical toward Keynesian macroeconomics. Indeed, cur-
rent Marxian economics is almost as strongly influenced by
Keynes as by Marx. A third branch of macroeconomics studies the
physical balancing of the various industries or sectors in the econ-
omy by considering the forward and backward connections that
obtain between them. This input-output analysis was pioneered
by Marx. Although perhaps his most significant analytical accom-
plishment, this analysis of "economic reproduction" is also one of
his less "Marxist" achievements. It is more like a bookkeeping
account writ large than a study of economic causality.
THE LABOR THEORY OF VALUE
One of the most fundamental questions of econpmics is how to
explain the prices at which commodities exchange against each
other. Empirical economics studies the prices that can be observed
in actual markets. Theoretical economics studies the prices that
arise in market equilibrium, when all agents - consumers and
producers - have made the best choices they can at the ruling
prices. Marxian price theory is an eqUilibrium theory. Although
Marx certainly did not believe that capitalism was in or near equi-
63
Marxian Economics
librium most of the time, he nevertheless found it an intellectual
challenge to explain the prices that would obtain in equilibrium.
Like most of the classical economists, Marx tried to explain price
formation by a labor theory of value. The rates at which goods
exchange against each other are explained by the amount of labor
that has gone into their production.
The theory has a certain immediate appeal. If I spend six hours
putting straws together to form a mat and you spend three hours
to catch one fish from the stream with your hands, the expected
rate of exchange - if there is an exchange - would be two fish
against one mat. I would not be satisfied with anything less than
two fish, because I could have caught that amount myself in the
time I spent making the mat; similarly, you would not settle for
less than the whole mat. Notice, however, the extreme simplifica-
tions in this story. Raw materials are assumed to be available freely
and costlessly. Production is assumed to take place without the use
of produced means of production. The two kinds of work are
assumed to be equally irksome or unpleasant. Acquired skills are
ignored, as are inborn talents. When we introduce the complica-
tions that the story assumed away, the labor theory of value be-
comes difficult to defend, or even to state coherently.
The most basic difficulty stems from the existence of inborn
differences of skill. If you could have made my mat in five hours
whereas I would have spent four hours catching one of your fish,
simply because of inborn skill differences, it becomes difficult to
predict how the goods will exchange. If there are just the two of
us, we will bargain over the price, with an outcome that is in
general difficult to predict, even if we add information about how
strongly each of us desires the two goods. If we assume that there
are one million people exactly like you and one million like me,
competition between individuals will reduce the scope for bar-
gaining, and we will be able to predict the equilibrium price. There
is no way, however, in which we can explain the price by the
relative amounts of labor that have been expended, because that
ratio is not well defined. To use just labor time, without taking
account of the qualitative difference between skilled and unskilled
labor, would be as absurd as explaining the price difference be-
64
The Labor Theory of Value
tween a sack of potatoes and a sack of rice by comparing their
weights.
There is, moreover, no way in which one could define a conver-
sion factor that would allow us to translate one hour of skilled
labor into so many hours of unskilled labor. There is a way of
doing this in the case of acquired skills: We simply look at the
amount of labor that has gone into the production of the skill out
of unskilled labor power. Inborn skills, however, are inherently
noncomparable. True, one might compare them through the
wages paid to workers with different skills, but this would go
against Marx's view that in capitalism labor power is just one
commodity among others, whose price is determined by the
amount of labor that goes into its production. The wages of skilled
workers reflect the demand for the goods they produce, whereas a
main virtue of the labor theory of value is supposed to be its
independence of demand conditions.
Just as workers may differ in their skill, work tasks may differ in
being more or less pleasant. If you and I both find catching fish
more irksome than making mats, the ensuing exchange rate
would be different. If you like catching fish and I prefer making
mats, this might or might not affect the exchange rate, depending
on the strength of the feelings and on our ability to bluff and
bargain. Again, nothing can be explained simply by comparing the
number of hours spent on making the products, and there is no
way of converting one form of labor into another. And again,
comparing the tasks through a comparison ofthe wages they com-
mand would be contrary to Marx's intention, which was to pro-
vide an objective, materialist account of price formation that did
not depend on subjective attitudes toward work.
These objections, if correct, show that the notion of the labor
value of a good is not well defined. Let us, nevertheless, consider
the prospect of the labor theory of value in a world in which they
do not apply, a world in which all skill differences are acquired by
training and all work tasks are equally onerous. In economic mod-
els - neoclassical no less than Marxist - abstractions of this mag-
nitude are performed as a matter of routine. It is almost invariably
assumed, for instance, that there are no economies of scale in
65
Marxian Economics
production, in spite of the overwhelming importance of this phe-
nomenon in the real world. The status and value of insights gener-
ated by such drastic simplifications are unclear, to put it charitably.
If, however, we stick to the rules of the economic models game as
it is currently played, a discussion of the labor theory of value
under these simplifying assumptions is perfectly in order.
The labor theory of value says that the prices of goods are ex-
plained by their labor content. A particularly simple explanation,
which was held by most classical economists before Marx, would
be that prices are proportional to labor content. Marx, however,
knew well that this was not true in general. To see why, we must
introduce the basic notions of Marxian economics.
The labor value of a good is the sum total of the labor that,
directly and indirectly, is needed to produce it. Equivalently, one
may also think of labor value as an "employment multiplicator":
It is the amount of labor that would have to be added to an
economy in order to make it possible to produce one more unit of
the good. Some of this extra labor would come in the industries
that produce the good in question, some of it would come in the
industries producing capital goods for the first set of industries, and
so on throughout the whole economy. Another, equivalent way of
thinking about the labor value is as the sum of a series of past labor
inputs. Consider the production of grain, using only labor and seed
grain as inputs, with seed grain yielding tenfold. The labor value of
one ton of grain is the sum of the direct labor expended this year to
produce it out of 100 kilo of seed grain, plus the labor expended
last year to produce 100 kilo seed grain, plus the labor expended
the year before last to produce the 10 kilo seed grain that produced
those 100 kilo, and so on. This infinite series of ever smaller labor
inputs adds up to a finite sum, which is the labor value of the ton
of grain.
Constant capital is the labor value of nonlabor means of produc-
tion: machinery, buildings, raw materials that have already been
somewhat refined by labor. (To make things simpler, we imagine
that all constant capital is used up in one production period.)
Variable capital is the labor value of the labor power of the workers
employed in the production process. In Marx's view, the labor
66
The Labor Theory of Value
power of the worker is a commodity like any other, not only in
being bought and sold on the market but in being produced out of
other commodities. The labor power of the worker is produced out
of the goods he consumes; hence the labor value of his labor
power is defined by the labor value of these goods, which he
consumes in fixed proportions just as production takes place with
fixed proportions of inputs. Surplus value is the difference between
the value the worker produces in a given period and the value of
the consumption goods needed to sustain him for that period. Let
us refer to constant capital, variable capital, and surplus value in
the economy as a whole as C, V, and S, respectively, and to the
same magnitudes in one particular sector as c, v, and s.
We can then define three aggregate ratios that play an important
part in Marxian economics. The rate of exploitation (also called the
rate of surplus value) is the ratio SIV. The organic composition of
capital (a rough measure of capital intensity) is the ratio CIV The
rate of profit is the ratio SI (C + V). To see how these three ratios are
related to each other, divide both the numerator and the de-
nominator in the rate of profit by V. We obtain
Th f fi
- the rate of exploitation
e rate 0 pro It - th . . . f . 1 + 1
e orgamc compOSItIon 0 capIta
This has some claim to be called the fundamental equation of
Marxian economics. Marx believed, wrongly, that he could use the
fundamental equation to derive the equilibrium rate of profit that
must obtain in each and every sector of the economy. One can use
it, however, to show that prices cannot be proportional to values.
Assume, namely, that this proportionality obtained. In that case
the magnitudes c, v, s could be interpreted as prices as well as
values, and the fundamental equation would be correct with re-
spect to any given industry. The surplus value would appear as
profit; the sum of constant and variable capital would appear as
cost; dividing through yields the rate of profit. Let us now compare
two firms that produce in industries with different organic com-
positions of capital and assume that the rate of exploitation is the
same in both. This last assumption is justified because competition
67
Marxian Economics
in the labor market ensures that workers in the two firms work the
same number of hours and reproduce their labor power with the
same consumption goods. But if the firms operate with the same
rate of exploitation and different organic compositions of capital.
their profit rates must differ. This, however, cannot obtain in equi-
librium. If some industries have higher profits than others, capital
will flow from the low-profit sectors to the high-profit sectors until
equality of profit is achieved. Because the hypothesis that equi-
librium prices are proportional to values leads to the self-contra-
dictory conclusion that firms will have different profit rates in
equilibrium, the hypothesis must be false.
In order to deduce equilibrium prices from values, Marx pro-
posed the following procedure. First, he used the fundamental
equation to derive r, the equilibrium rate of profit. To deduce the
price of any given good, he multiplied the labor value of the inputs
used to produce it - the constant and the variable capital - by
(1 + r). Price, in other words, is derived by adding a markup on
costs. This proposal is fundamentally flawed. For one thing, the
reasoning can only be characterized as a dialectical howler; for
another, it does not yield the correct results.
Marx believed that the relation between labor values and prices
was an instance of Hegel's theory of the essence and the ap-
pearance. Prices appear on the surface, in the sense that unlike
labor values they are immediately visible to the economic agents.
To explain the relative prices, however, we must go beyond the
surface to the deep structure of the economy - to labor values. An
analogy could be the relation between the visible appearance of a
physical object and the atomic structure that explains why it ap-
pears that way - as green rather than yellow, for example. This
understanding of Hegel was probably incorrect, although the im-
penetrable density of Hegel's Science of Logic - where the distinc-
tion between essence and appearance is expounded - makes it
hard to be sure. In any case, Marx's deduction of prices violates the
idea that values are deep structural entities, hidden to the eco-
nomic agents whose behavior they regulate. The deduction of
prices by a markup on cost as measured in labor values, presupposes
that the capitalists know what these values are - contrary to the
view that they are hidden and invisible. It is as if, in a study of the
68
The Labor Theory of Value
physiology of perception, one stipulated that people must know a
lot about atomic physics in order to have the visual impressions
they have.
Here is how a correct deduction would go. The problem is to
determine certain unknown quantities: the rate of profit and the
set of relative prices. With, say, 15 goods, there are 14 relative
prices, if the price of the last good is set equal to I by convention.
Hence, in this case, there are 15 unknowns to be found. To find
them, we need 15 equations. For each of the 15 goods we set up
an equation stating that cost plus profit equals price. The cost is the
sum of the prices of the inputs used to produce the good, where
the inputs are given by the "fixed coefficients" of production and
the similarly fixed coefficients of consumption. The profit is the
cost multiplied by the rate of profit. Solving these 15 equations
with 15 unknowns, we derive the rate of profit and the relative
prices in one fell swoop, whereas Marx wrongly thought he could
derive the rate of profit before he deduced prices. It is a useful
exercise to set up a two-sector example to show that Marx's meth-
od does not give the same result as the correct procedure. Note that
in the latter labor values play no role whatsoever. To deduce equi-
librium prices and the rate of profit, we must know the technical
coefficients, but there is no need to know the labor values. We
may calculate them, if we want to, but once we have done so there
is no further use to which they can be put.
A very problematic part of Marx's economic theory is the idea
that labor power is produced with a fixed set of consumption
goods rather than paid a monetary wage that the workers can
proceed to spend as they please. This view confuses capitalism and
slavery and conflicts with what Marx says elsewhere about the
greater freedom of choice that distinguishes capitalism. He held
this mechanistic conception because without it he could not define
the notion of the value of labor power. If workers receive a mone-
tary wage, they can spend it in many different ways, on many
different baskets of consumption goods. Even though all of these
add up to the same total price, they need not have the same total
labor content. The latter conclusion would follow only if prices
were in general proportional to labor values, a view that Marx
rightly discarded.
69
Marxian Economics
REPRODUCTION, ACCUMULATION, AND TECHNICAL
CHANGE
A state of economic equilibrium has two properties. On the one
hand, prices must be such that producers can cover their costs and
earn the average profit. This is a condition that holds within each
sector or industry. On the other hand, productive output in one
period must be such as to yield the inputs necessary for production
and consumption in the next period. This is a condition that holds
between different sectors and determines their size relative to one
another. We have seen that Marx's analysis of price equilibrium
was irremediably flawed. His theory of physical equilibrium, how-
ever, though not faultless, was more valuable. The analyses in
Capital II of simple and extended reproduction anticipated later
theories of input-output analysis and of balanced multi sectorial
growth. Even more important and influential are the chapters in
Capital I that propose a broad historical perspective on the rise and
development of the capitalist mode of production.
Let us first consider the conditions under which the economy
can reproduce itself identically, assuming that the whole surplus
goes to capitalist consumption and that no reinvestment takes
place. Following Marx, we divide the economy into two sectors.
Sector I is the capital goods sector, whereas sector II produces
goods for workers and capitalists alike. The total
value of the output produced in the two sectors can be decom-
posed into c
I
+ VI + SI and c
II
+ VII + Sw respectively. Because we
have assumed that constant capital is completely used up during
the period of production, the output of sector I must in eqUilibrium
be exactly equal to the constant capital employed in the two sec-
tors: '1 + VI + SI = c
I
+ cu. Also, the output of sector II must be
exactly sufficient to cover working-class consumption (corre-
sponding to the variable capital) and capitalist consumption (cor-
responding to the surplus): 'n + Vu + sn = VI + SI + Vu + su. Both
equations reduce to the same condition: c
II
= VI + SI. Physical
eqUilibrium for simple reproduction requires that the value of the
constant capital used to produce consumption goods equal the
value added in the capital goods sector.
Actual capitalist economies do not, however, conform to this
70
Reproduction. Accumulation. Technical Change
pattern. What makes capitalism tick is not only that capitalists
make a profit by exploiting workers but that they reinvest part of
the profit in further production. "Accumulate. accumulate! That is
Moses and the prophets!" Accumulation may be extensive or in-
tensive. It may take the fonn of quantitative expansion without
technical change or of investment in new technology that brings
about a qualitative transfonnation of the production process.
It is not quite clear what. in Marx's view. was the relation be-
tween extensive and intensive accumulation. One account. with
some basis in his work. is the following. The need to save and
reinvest is the fundamental driving force in capitalism. Initially,
investment takes the form of subjugating noncapitalist sectors of
the economy to capitalist rule, as in the putting-out system of early
capitalism. At the same time we observe the expansion, on a given
technical basis, of sectors that have already been organized on a
capitalist basis. Sooner or later, however, these purely quantitative
fonns of growth come up against their limits. Expansion into the
noncapitalist environment comes to a halt when all sectors have
come under the rule of capital. Expansion of the capitalist sectors
comes up against the limited supply of labor, decreasing demand
for the given range of products, or both. Capital is forced to chan-
nel its expansive tendencies into innovation and qualitative eco-
nomic growth. This is the revolutionary phase of capitalism, and
that which creates the basis for its own supersession.
The puzzle is why the reinvestment motive arose in the first
place. What are the psychological or economic forces that would
lead a capitalist to reinvest part of the surplus, instead of consum-
ing all of it? Max Weber's answer, in The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism, was that saving and reinvestment were a solu-
tion to a psychological tension that inhabited the puritan or Cal-
vinist entrepreneur. His religion told him that salvation was a
matter of predestination: The elect had already been chosen from
eternity on, and nothing he could do would affect his chances. He
could, however, affect his belief that he was among the elect by
engaging in behavior that could be seen as a sign that he was
chosen. An eighteenth-century Methodist pamphlet illustrates this
fonn of magical thinking when, having exhorted people to come
to a religious meeting, it adds that 'The coming soul need not fear
71
Marxian Economics
that he is not elected, for none but such would be willing to
come."
This argument was hardly open to Marx, because it would appear to
give religious, nomnaterial forces an independent explanatory power
that he was not willing to accord them. In some of his writings he
offered a dialectical deduction of "the self-expansion of value," as
if a real historical development could be explained by mere
conceptual juggling. In others he suggested a more satisfactory
account: Capitalists are forced to invest by competition. This argu-
ment, however, does not support the distinction between exten-
sive and intensive accumulation. Competition forces the en-
trepreneur to invest in more efficient methods, so that he can
undersell his competitors; it does not force him to expand in a
merely quantitative manner. The history of capitalism does not
divide into a stage of extensive growth followed by one of inten-
sive growth. From the very beginning it was characterized by in-
novation and qualitative expansion. Quantitative expansion may
be retained as an aspect of this process but not as a chronologically
separate stage. Of these two accounts, the first has better basis in
Marx's writings, whereas the second seems to correspond more
closely to the actual historical development.
Merely quantitative expansion or, as Marx called it, extended
reproduction also has its equilibrium conditions. The capital goods
produced by sector I must cover the replacement of constant cap-
ital in both sectors plus the demand for new capital derived from
the new investment. The consumption goods produced in sector II
must cover the consumption of capitalists and workers in the ex-
panded economy. We stipulate, furthermore, that capitalists in
both sectors have similar saving behavior. In his numerical exam-
ples Marx did not respect the last condition, but in the absence of
specific reasons for thinking otherwise it seems to be a reasonable
one. Some followers of and commentators on Marx have spelled it
out as a requirement that capitalists in both sectors save the same
proportion of the surplus value created in their sectors. This, how-
ever, embodies the very same dialectical howler that Marx com-
mitted in his deduction of prices from values. Saving belongs to the
realm of money and prices, not to the world of labor values. The
proper equilibrium condition, therefore, must be that the same
72
Reproduction, Accumulation, Technical Change
proportion of profits is saved in both sectors. Contrary to what
Marx believed. the conditions for extended reproduction cannot
be stated in labor-value accounting.
Technical change - the development of the productive forces -
is at the heart of historical materialism. It is what explains the rise
and fall of the successive modes of production. Capitalism. like any
other mode of production based on exploitation and class divi-
sions. is both a spur and a bridle on technical change. It becomes
superseded when and because the bridle effect comes to dominate
the spur effect - a statement that will be clarified later.
Capitalism acts as a spur on technical change by making innova-
tion a question of survival for the firm. The dynamism of the
capitalist mode of production comes from competition between
firms in the market. not from the capital-labor relationship within
the firm. That relationship. by contrast. is responsible for the bri-
dles that capitalism imposes on innovation. According to Marx.
the exploitation of labor by capital acts as a fetter on technical
change. in two distinct ways.
First. the criterion by which a capitalist accepts or rejects new
techniques is a socially undesirable one. In a rationally organized
society. the criterion for choice of techniques is the minimization
of labor time, because work even at its best is a fonn of drudgery
that ought to be reduced as much as possible. (At least this is what
Marx argued in Capital. In other writings he was more open to the
idea that work under communism will be a value in itself, as a
means to self-realization.) In capitalism. the criterion is the max-
imization of profit o"r the minimization of paid labor time. Hence.
Marx argued. the scope for machinery would be greater under
communism than under capitalism. There may be something to
that argument but certainly less than Marx claimed. A rational
planner would consider not only the sum of the series of labor
inputs needed to produce the good but also the temporal profile of
the series. a consideration that would bring him closer to the prof-
it-maximizing criterion.
Second. Marx argued that the class struggle may prevent a cap-
italist owner from adopting the most efficient technique. An inno-
vation that would increase the profit at a given wage rate may also
lead to a wage increase that offsets the efficiency gain. Innovations
73
Marxian Economics
are usually embodied in new machinery and physical plant. The
physical organization and layout of the factory may in tum affect
the class consciousness and combativity of the workers. The work-
ers are disciplined, united, and organized by the very process of
factory production: Capitalism produces its own gravediggers. A
rational and foresighted capitalist would anticipate this effect and,
if necessary, sacrifice a short-term increase of profit for the sake of
long-term maintenance of power. The argument, though poten-
tially important, is incomplete. Because the level of working-class
consciousness is not determined by the technical choices of a sin-
gle capitalist, there could easily arise a free-rider problem. All
capitalists might be better off if they all refused to adopt a certain
innovation, but the consequences for anyone capitalist of adopt-
ing it might not suffice to deter him.
CRISIS THEORY
In his relentless indictment of capitalism, Marx adopted both ex-
ternal and internal standards of criticism. On the one hand, he
compared the actual level of want satisfaction and technical
change with the level that would obtain in a communist society.
This comparison underlies the central indictments produced by the
theory of alienation and by historical materialism. On the other
hand, he argued that capitalism fails to deliver the goods even in
its own terms. In particular, it is prone to recurrent economic crises
that undermine any claim to being a rational way of organizing
production and distribution. This part of the case for the prosecu-
tion is argued in the three volumes of Capital.
Sometimes it seems that Marx made capitalism out to be more
perversely irrational than it could possibly be. He appears to claim
that it would lead both to ever greater impoverishment of the
workers and to a fall in the rate of profit enjoyed by the capitalist
class. Although capitalism produces a massive acceleration of the
productive forces, no one would actually benefit from that devel-
opment. On closer reading, however, Marx can be absolved from
this implausible view. In the mature economic writings, which set
out the theory of the falling rate of profit, there is no suggestion
that the standard of living of the workers will fall in the literal
74
Crisis Theory
sense. It might fall relative to that of the capitalist class, and rela-
tive to the level that would be achieved in a rationally planned
society, but not in absolute terms.
An important crisis theory among pre-Marxist critics of cap-
italism was the disproportionality theory. It asserts that in an un-
planned economy the conditions for simple or extended reproduc-
tion are unlikely to be met, except by accident. Because there is no
coordinating agency to ensure that inputs to production will be
available in the requisite proportions, we observe a perpetual com-
bination of waste and shortage. All this, though true, is somewhat
simplistic. As Marx well knew, excess supply of goods tends to
lower prices and reduce supply; excess demand is eliminated by a
similar self-regulating mechanism. Marx did not, however, take
the further step and ask whether these reactions could overshoot
and, instead of restoring equilibrium, create a deviation from it in
the opposite direction. The "hog cycle" illustrates this case. This is
a rare instance in which Marx credited capitalism with more col-
lective rationality than it in fact possesses, because he did not fully
grasp the dynamics of price adjustments.
Nor did he fully understand the dynamics of wage adjustments.
There are many passages, notably in the Grundrisse, where Marx
was tantalizingly close to the central insights of Keynesian eco-
nomics. He was fully aware of the paradoxical character of a sys-
tem in which each capitalist wants his workers, but only his work-
ers, to be badly paid. He also entertained, albeit in a very vague
form, the theory that crises are due to lack of purchasing power
among the workers. The two ideas remained separate in his writ-
ings, however. It was left for Keynes to bring them together, in his
analysis of the self-reinforcing process of falling demand and wage
cuts.
The theory of the falling rate of profit was Marx's main account
of the economic breakdown of capitalism. Like the other classical
economists, Marx wanted to explain the secular tendency of the
rate of profit to fall. The view of his predecessors was quite similar
to that of modern environmentalist concerns. The combined effect
of population growth and depletion of resources was to slow down
economic development, with stagnation as the ultimate outcome.
The main culprit was diminishing marginal productivity in agri-
75
Marxian Economics
culture: To produce food for more workers, land of lower quality
had to be taken into use, leading to higher food prices, higher
wages, and lower profits. Technical change might counteract and
delay this tendency but only for a while.
Marx offered an explanation that differed in two respects. The
cause of the falling rate of industrial profit had to be sought in
industry itself, not in agriculture. Technical change, far from being
a counteracting tendency to the falling rate of profit, was the very
cause of the fall. The last claim sounds strange, and it is indeed
quite indefensible. It has, nevertheless, a certain superficial plau-
sibility, without which it could not have exerted such a strong
attraction on generations of later Marxists. Indeed, at first glance it
appears plausible on dialectical no less than on mathematical
grounds, an apparently unbeatable combination.
A dialectical rendering of the argument is the following. Tech-
nical change tends to be labor-saving. When capitalists substitute
dead labor for living labor, which is the ultimate source of all
profit, they behave in a collectively self-destructive way. Each cap-
italist has an incentive to innovate, to gain a cutting edge in com-
petition, but when all innovate all suffer. The capitalists face a
Prisoner's Dilemma. An algebraic version of the argument is the
following. The tendency of innovations to be labor-saving means,
in Marx's language, that there is an increasing organic composi-
tion of capital. It then follows from the fundamental equation of
Marxian economics that if the rate of exploitation is constant, the
rate of profit must fall.
These, however, are treacherous formulations that cannot be
upheld in a more rigorous treatment. Although the view that tech-
nical change is inherently labor-saving appears very plausible, es-
pecially in the day of the computer revolution, it is not borne out
by the facts. It neglects such dramatic capital-saving innovations as
explosives and the wireless. Historically, innovations have saved
more or less equally on labor and on capital.
Even if we granted that there is a labor-saving bias on the
whole, we could not conclude to an increase in the organic com-
position of capital. If one industry has a labor-saving innovation, it
would indeed experience an increase in the organic composition,
but if we assume - as Marx did - that such innovations occur
76
Crisis Theory
across the board, in all industries, the link is broken. Innovations
in the industry that produces capital goods for the industry in
which a labor-saving innovation has occurred reduce the value of
these goods and lower the organic composition of capital in the
latter industry.
Finally, Marx did not consistently adhere to the assumption that
the rate of exploitation remains constant. In the presence of tech-
nical process, this assumption implies that real wages are rising in
absolute terms: There is no absolute impoverishment. It also im-
plies that the shares of labor and capital of the net social product
remain constant, so that there is no relative impoverishment ei-
ther. Marx suggests that the actual development is one in which
wages rise in absolute terms but fall in relative terms, so that there
is an increase in the rate of exploitation. He gives no reasons for
thinking, however, that the net effect of an increase in both the
numerator and the denominator of the fundamental equation will
be a fall in the rate of profit.
Marx's theory of the falling rate of profit leaks like a sieve. To
understand how he could have held the extremely counterin-
tuitive view that innovation causes a fall in the rate of profit, we
may consider the following explanations. Although Marx - con-
trary to a widespread view - was not averse to the use of mathe-
matics in economic analysis, he was not trained in it. It is difficult
to carry out the kind of analysis he attempted without the tech-
nical tools for evaluating the net effect of complex social processes.
Also, there may have been an element of wishful thinking at work.
There is a pleasing paradox in the view that the driving force of
capitalism - its relentless tendency to innovation - will also be the
cause of its breakdown. Most importantly, perhaps, the argument
for an increase in the organic composition of capital rested on a
confusion between the qualitative and the quantitative domina-
tion of labor by capital. The qualitative domination is the real
subsumption of labor under capital, whereby the worker is re-
duced to a mere cog in a gigantic machine. The quantitative domi-
nation is the increase in the organic composition. It is difficult to
understand today how a mere numerical fraction can take on the
significance of the domination of Objective Spirit over Subjective
Spirit. For Marx, this Hegelian algebra was self-evidently true.
77
Marxian Economics
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Introduction. On the place of Marxian economics in the history of eco-
nomic analysis, see Mark Blaug, Economic Thought in Retrospect, 3d ed.
(Cambridge University Press, 1985). The Marxist critique of neoclassical
growth theory is explained in G. C. Harcourt, Some Cambridge Controversies
in the Theory of Capital (Cambridge University Press, 1973).
The labor theory of value. Excellent expositions, in increasing order of
difficulty, are Ian Steedman, Marx after SrafJa (New Left Books, 1977),
Michio Morishima, Marx's Economics (Cambridge University Press, 1973),
and John Roemer, Analytical Foundations of Marxian Economics (Cambridge
University Press, 1981). They may be usefully supplemented by C. C. von
Weizsacker, Steady-State Capital Theory (Springer, 1971), and by Ugo
Pagano, Work and Welfare in Economic Theory (Blackwell, 1985).
Reproduction, accumulation, and technical change. Morishima's Marx's Ec-
onomics is good on the first two topics, Roemer's Analytical Foundations is
an outstanding exposition of the third. On the relation between competi-
tion and technical change in early capitalism, see especially Robert Bren-
ner, "The agrarian roots of European capitalism," Past and Present 97
(1982): 16-113.
Crisis theory. On the falling rate of profit, see again Roemer, Analytical
Foundations, and Philippe van Parijs, "The falling-rate-of-profit theory of
crisis: a rational reconstruction by way of obituary," Review of Radical
Political Economy 12 (1980): 1-16.
78
5
EXPLOITATION
INTRODUCTION
T
H E contrast and the conflict between the haves and the have-
nots, the idle rich and the working poor, are constant themes
of history. Marx's theory of exploitation is an attempt to provide a
scientific. rigorous statement ofthese intuitive notions. In his work
as a whole it serves two distinct purposes. On the one hand, it has
an explanatory function. Exploitation. when perceived by the ex-
ploited. provides a motivation for revolt. protest. riot. or revolu-
tion. As such it can enter into the explanation of class struggle and
social change. On the other hand. exploitation is a normative
concept that is part of a wider theory of distributive justice. Exploi-
tation, whether perceived by the exploited or not, is morally
wrong. It is unfair that some should be able to earn an income
without working or out of proportion with their work contribu-
tion.
The two purposes do not fully match. The normatively relevant
concept of exploitation may not have strong motivational force.
Because of a limited horizon, in space or time. the exploited may
make mistakes about the identity of the exploiters and about the
extent to which they are exploited. Workers may focus their strug-
gle on managers, when in reality these are only passing on the
surplus to shareholders. They may focus on the size of the surplus
that is extracted from them, without noticing that part of it is
reinvested in future production that partly redounds to their bene-
fit. Exploitation, in the appropriate normative sense. is a highly
abstract concept. whereas the class struggle is motivated by more
immediate concerns.
Marx's notion of exploitation has a very specific content. A
79
Exploitation
person is exploited, in Marx's sense, if he performs more labor
than is necessary to produce the goods that he consumes. If he
actually produces his own consumption goods, the criterion for
exploitation is simply whether he also produces goods to be con-
sumed by others. This was the case in feudalism, where the serfs
worked some days on their own land and the rest of the week on
the lord's land. In other modes of production the exploited per-
ceive their situation in a different light. Slaves, Marx argued, tend
to think that all their labor is unpaid labor, forgetting that part of it
covers the cost of reproducing their labor power. Wage workers,
by contrast, are easily misled into thinking that all their labor is
paid labor, because they are actually paid by the hour. It is only in
feudalism that the appearance of exploitation coincides with its
essence - the performance of labor over and above what is needed
to produce the goods consumed by the laborer.
Conversely, a person is an exploiter if he works fewer hours
than are needed to sustain his consumption. For there to be ex-
ploiters, there must also be some who are exploited. Strictly speak-
ing, the converse need not be true. One can imagine a society in
which everybody is exploited because the surplus is simply thrown
away or used in religious sacrifices rather than being appropriated
by a class of exploiters. Because Marx did not have this kind of
case in mind, the concept of exploitation ought perhaps to be
restricted to situations in which the product of labor is put to some
further use. If some are exploited, there must be others who are
exploiters.
Usually, for any exploited agent we can point to another who is
exploiting him. More precisely, we can point to an exploiter who
ends up with the surplus produced by the exploited agent. This
need not be the case, however. A small, independent farmer or
artisan may be exploited, in the precise Marxian sense, but the
surplus he produces may be thinly spread out over all his trade
partners. Moreover, he may not even know that he is exploited. To
assess his "net exploitation status" we would have to carry out
horrendously complicated calculations of the labor value of the
goods he consumes. Because even a trained economist would
hardly be able to do this, we can safely assume that the agent
himself will not. Not being aware that he is exploited, he will not
80
Exploitation, Freedom, and Force
be motivated to revolt by the fact that, objectively speaking, he is.
Here, the normatively appropriate notion fails to motivate; in the
manager-shareholder case, what motivates is an inappropriate
notion.
Marx's labor theory of exploitation shares some of the weak-
nesses of the labor theory of value. By requiring us to compare the
amount of labor a person performs and the amount embodied in
the goods he consumes, it presupposes that all labor can be re-
duced to a common denominator. We know, however, that in the
presence of inborn skill differences among workers, or differences
in irksomeness among jobs, this reduction cannot be carried out.
One might argue, along the lines of some pre-Marxian socialists,
that the first problem is irrelevant. Inborn skills or talents are
morally arbitrary facts that ought not to influence the distribution
of earnings. It is just to let wages vary with the number of hours
worked, which is within the control of the person, but not with the
quality of labor performed, which is not. Although not a theory of
exploitation in Marx's sense, this would be a theory of economic
justice using labor time as the sole criterion. It cannot, however,
handle the second difficulty. If, of two unskilled workers, one has
a job which is more dirty and unpleasant than the other, he will be
and should be paid more.
For some purposes these problems may be neglected. There is
sufficient similarity among workers and among jobs to justify the
use of a simplified model. The labor theory of exploitation is some-
thing of a straitjacket, because it forces us to render comparable
what is not, but then this comment would apply to any scientific
model. In any case, it will turn out that even on its own simplify-
ing assumptions the theory is open to serious objections.
EXPLOITATION, FREEDOM. AND FORCE
How does exploitation arise? Do the exploiters have to force or
coerce the exploited? Or could the relation be one of free and
voluntary exchange?
Exploitation of slaves and serfs almost invariably rests on phys-
ical coercion. Although slaves have sometimes refused freedom
when given the option, their preference for slavery in these cases
81
Exploitation
was an effect of the condition of slavery, not its cause. Instances of
free men selling themselves into slavery exist, but we may doubt
whether their choice was uncoerced. As the French medieval his-
torian Marc Bloch once asked, "In social life is there any more
elusive notion than the free will of a small man?"
It has been seriously argued that serfdom rested on a mutually
beneficial contract between lord and serfs, with the lord providing
military protection in exchange for the serfs' surplus labor. The
argument fails, because serfdom was more like a protection racket
than a genuine exchange. A gangster who offers protection to a
restaurant owner does indeed protect the owner against rival
gangsters who would otherwise move in, but no one could se-
riously argue that the owner is not coerced. The offer-threat is "If
you pay us, we will protect you against our rivals; if you don't,
we'll punish you." The restaurant owner would be better off were
there no gangsters at all, although, given their existence, it is pref-
erable to pay a steady fee to one of them than to be permanently
exposed to raids and predation.
The origin of capitalist exploitation cannot be captured in any
simple formula. According to Marx, it typically arises because
workers are forced by economic circumstances to sell their labor
power. They have no land they can cultivate: neither do they have
the capital necessary to set themselves up in business. Nor do they
usually have the documented entrepreneurial skills that could per-
suade a bank to lend them money. All alternatives to wage labor -
starving, begging, stealing, or the workhouse - are so unattractive
that no man in his senses would choose them. The choice of wage
labor is forced, although uncoerced.
Coercion presupposes the existence of an exploiter who, delib-
erately, goes out of his way to increase the likelihood that the
agent will choose exploitation over the alternatives. Thus, in slav-
ery and serfdom the exploiters attach severe penalties to the at-
tempt to escape exploitation. In capitalism, this form of physical
coercion is rare. Capitalist exploitation can, however, rest on eco-
nomic coercion, if the capitalist interferes with alternative em-
ployment opportunities for the workers. Marx argued that the
English enclosures from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century
were partly carried out with a view to drive the small peasants
82
Exploitation, Freedom, and Force
from the land, thus coercing them into selling their labor power.
Another example of economic coercion would be if capitalist firms
deliberately made life difficult for workers' cooperatives, for in-
stance by underselling them more than is normal competitive
practice.
The distinction between coercion and what Marx called "the
dull force of economic circumstances" is clear enough. Coercion
presupposes, and force excludes, intentional efforts by the ex-
ploiter to influence the alternatives (other than exploitation) open
to the exploited. The distinction between physical and economic
coercion is more tenuous, although not unimportant. Physical co-
ercion is illegal in capitalism, whereas economic coercion can em-
ploy perfectly legal means. Physical coercion involves the invasion
of the rights of others, economic coercion the abuse of one's own
rights. Such abuse is often punishable if the motive is sheer spite
but usually not if the motive is to make money out of the transac-
tion. If I erect a fence on my property for the sole purpose of
shutting off your view, I act spitefully and possibly actionably. If
my purpose is to make you pay me not to erect it, it is less clear
that what I am doing is legally objectionable. Even when the abuse
is illegal, it can be punished only if intent is demonstrated, which
may be difficult.
So far we have distinguished three degrees of involuntariness:
physical coercion, economic coercion, and being forced by circum-
stances. Contrary to Marx's belief, exploitation need not be invol-
untary in any of these senses. Consider two reasons why wives
who have stayed at home may decide to enter the labor market. In
a recession, the loss of family income may force the wife to sell her
labor power. In a boom, the offer of very high wages may induce
her to do so. Although she will have less leisure, its value will be
enhanced by the money she can spend on it. Living on her hus-
band's income remains an acceptable alternative, but she prefers
to work for a wage and, hence, to be exploited. Writing in the rnid-
nineteenth century, Marx was largely justified in neglecting such
cases, but today it is less plausible to assert that all sale of labor
power is either coerced or forced.
Neoclassical economists rarely refer to exploitation, and when
they do, it is in a sense quite different from the Marxist one. They
83
Exploitation
define exploitation as a wage that is less than the value of the
marginal product of labor, whereas Marx would say that there is
exploitation when the wage is below the average product of labor.
On the neoclassical definition, exploitation is impossible in per-
fectly competitive capitalism. It arises only when firms have some
degree of market power, that is, when they are able to influence
wages or prices instead of having to take them as given. The defini-
tion is somewhat implausible if we want to retain the usual con-
notations of exploitation. Assume that a firm happens to have
such a large market share that its behavior can affect prices but
that the wage rate is given. The firm will not find it profitable to
produce up to the point where the value of the marginal product
equals the wage, but because its behavior does not affect the wage
it is strange to say the workers are thereby exploited.
There is a superficial verbal similarity between Marx's view that
exploitation arises because workers are forced to sell their labor
power and the neoclassical view that it occurs because firms exer-
cise economic power. On closer inspection, however, the two the-
ories have nothing in common. For one thing, they rest on differ-
ent concepts of exploitation; for another, workers may be forced to
sell their labor power even if there is perfect competition so that no
firms have any market power. The fundamental difference is that
Marx wanted to argue that exploitation must exist in any form of
capitalism, not just in its imperfect forms.
EXPLOITATION IN HISTORY
The historical varieties of exploitation are numerous and diverse.
Exploitation can occur in capitalist as well as precapitalist so-
cieties; in market as well as nonmarket economies; in class so-
cieties as well as in societies without class divisions.
The simplest variety is exploitation without class fonnation,
which arises in what Marx called "simple commodity produc-
tion." This is a community of farmers and artisans who own their
means of production and employ only family labor. Although
there are no labor and credit markets, there is a commodity market
where the producers exchange their products with each other. For
simplicity we may assume that their goal is to obtain a given level
84
Exploitation in History
of consumption - the same for all producers - with a minimum of
work. It is then intuitively clear, and can be proved rigorously, that
if some producers have more capital endowments than others they
will have to work fewer hours to get the income needed to achieve
the consumption target.
One might question whether this is exploitation. To see that it is,
consider another economy that differs from simple commodity
production only in that the producers do not trade with each
other. Each family produces its own consumption goods. As be-
fore, the goal is to achieve a fixed level of consumption with a
minimum of work; as before, some are better endowed than oth-
ers; as before, these will have to work less to achieve their goal.
For each of these economies, we carry through the thought experi-
ment of imagining that the poorly endowed producers disappear
from the economy, taking their endowments with them. In the
no-trade economy the producers who remain behind will work
the same number of hours as before. Because they did not interact
with the poorly endowed producers, they are not affected by their
disappearance. In simple commodity production the better-en-
dowed producers will have to work more under the thought ex-
periment, because they lose the gains from trade. As a group, the
better-endowed producers now consume goods that embody ex-
actly as much labor as they perform. When previously they con-
sumed the same goods and worked less, they must have been
exploiters. Yet there are no class divisions in this society, because
all producers stand in the same relation to the means of produc-
tion. It is irrelevant that some are rich and some are poor, for
wealth is not a Marxist criterion of class.
Marx did not see simple commodity production as a significant
historical phenomenon, and for good reasons. In an economy of
this kind, the poorly endowed producers will usually lead a highly
precarious existence. They are vulnerable to price fluctuations,
accidents of weather, illness, and so on. In a crisis they will borrow
from the rich producers or offer themselves for hire. In either case
a class division is created. Exploitation without class is not a stable
situation. Yet it is a logically conceivable situation, which shows
that - contrary to a widespread Marxist belief - exploitation and
class are not necessarily tied to each other.
85
Exploitation
Actually, classless exploitation is more than a mere logical pos-
sibility. It arises in "unequal exchange" between nations, when
rich countries exchange goods with low labor content against
goods with high content. Although there may be class divisions
within each country, the relation between them is not one of class.
Exploitation without class could also occur in market socialism of
the Yugoslav variety. Here all workers are members of self-man-
aged firms, so there are no class differences. Yet because of dif-
ferences in endowments there can arise regional and sectoral in-
equalities that reveal the presence of exploitation.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, nevertheless, exploita-
tion is accompanied by class divisions. Slaves form a distinct class
because they do not own any means of production, not even their
own labor power. Serfs have only partial ownership of their labor
power, because part of the week they are obliged - on pain of
physical coercion - to work on the lord's land. Because the rest of
the week they work on plots of their own, they also have partial
ownership of their nonlabor means of production. Workers in
capitalism have full ownership of their labor power but typically
do not own any other means of production.
These are the main relationships of exploitation and class: be-
tween slave and slaveowner, serf and lord, worker and capitalist.
Yet in societies where one of these was the dominant relation,
there have usually existed, alongside it, relations of indebtedness
arising in the credit market. Marx claimed that in classical antiq-
uity the conflict between debtor and creditor was the main form of
class struggle. More generally, in all precapitalist societies one ob-
serves usurer's capital, which has "the mode of exploitation of
capital without its mode of production." Even in capitalism proper
this form of exploitation persists. Marx argued in The Eighteenth
Brumaire that the apparently independent French peasantry was in
reality exploited by financial capital, through mortgage interests.
Exploitation through usurer's capital or financial capital gives
no impetus to the development of the productive forces, because a
moneylender has neither the incentive nor the opportunity to im-
prove the methods of production. He has no incentive, because he
is not the "residual claimant" who receives what is left over after
payment of fixed expenses. Nor does he have an opportunity, for
86
Exploitation in History
he is not actively involved in the production process. As the re-
sidual claimant, the indebted producer does have an incentive, but
because of the small scale of production the opportunities for im-
provement are limited. An industrial capitalist has both the incen-
tive and the opportunity to introduce new techniques. He is both
the residual claimant and the actual organizer of production,
which, moreover, takes place on a large scale. This accounts for
the uniquely dynamical character of capitalism.
As organizer of the production process, the capitalist or his agent
enters into a new relation to the workers. In all forms of capitalist
exploitation we find the "formal subsumption of labor under cap-
ital." In the early stage of capitalism, this was the main relation
between the two classes. Industrial capitalism adds a "real sub-
sumption" - the subordination and lack of autonomy of the work-
er in the work process. This relation is the object ofthe day-to-day
class struggle in capitalism. Because the labor contract cannot
specify in full detail what the worker is to do, and because in any
case he might not abide with it unless forced to, there is a need for
constant supervision and monitoring of his efforts. Although the
worker may have agreed to such supervision as part of the con-
tract, he may still resent it deeply as an attack on his autonomy
and dignity.
In this struggle, the worker is not without some bargaining chips
of his own. Because of his specific, idiosyncratic knowledge of the
production techniques of the firm, he may not be easily replace-
able. This may lead the capitalist to replace the optimal techniques
with others that create less dependence on skilled workers; at any
rate he can threaten to do so. Moreover, the very specificity of the
worker's knowledge also makes it difficult for him to find another
job. The capitalist, in other words, also has some bargaining
power. This kind of struggle is not specifically capitalist. It can be
expected in any hierarchically organized industrial economy, cap-
italist or communist. (The terms and outcome of the struggle will,
however, depend on further institutional features. The workers
have a stronger position if they have security of employment than
if they can easily be fired.) The fact that in modern capitalism we
observe both exploitation and subordination should not lead us to
confuse them with one another, for one can observe the first with-
87
Exploitation
out the second (in early capitalism) or the second without the first
(in managerial communism).
The exploiter need not be an individual. In many societies the
state has engaged in exploitation. Marx argued that in the Asiatic
mode of production the state, as the ultimate owner of all land,
was the main exploiter. In The Eighteenth Brumaire and other writ-
ings on France he asserted that the bureaucratic state apparatus
was a parasite or a vampire that lived off the labor of the common
people. He also argued, however, that in the final an'alysis the
Bonapartist state was instrumental in sustaining the ruJe.of capital
over labor. The apparently independent state acted as '" lightning
rod, in attracting to itself some of the opposition that otherwise
would have been directed against capital. The merits and demerits
of this analysis will concern us later.
More generally, there are several ways in which the state can
enter into the foreground or background of exploitation. In bu-
reaucratic agrarian societies the state has been the main exploiter,
with the bureaucracy as the ruling class. In ancient Rome taxes
were largely siphoned off to the economically dominant classes,
whose main base, however, was private property of land and
slaves. In capitalism, Marx argued, the state is the guarantor of
exploitation, by protecting the class of exploiters against the ex-
ploited and against its own individual members. The protection
against the exploited may take the form of direct oppression, the
indirect form of acting as a lightning rod for opposition, or the
even more indirect form of enacting measures in favor of the ex-
ploited in order to provide an appearance of legitimacy. The state
can also enhance the efficiency of exploitation, by providing public
goods that private exploiters do not find it profitable to create.
Finally, in all forms of market exploitation the state is present in
the background, to ensure freedom of contract and guarantee pri-
vate property.
At this point we may try to summarize the complex relations
that obtain between exploitation relations and power relations.
Nonmarket exploitation immediately rests on power. To have full
or partial ownership of the labor power of another person is to
have power over him. Market exploitation does not rest on power
in this direct way, but a number of more indirect connections
88
Exploitation in History
obtain. When a person sells his labor power, the cause, when it is
not the "force of circumstances," may be economic coercion. The
power of the state is presupposed as a background to any form of
market exploitation. Exploitative relationships may also give rise
to power relationships, as when a worker sells his labor power to a
capitalist and thereby becomes subject to subordination in the
work place.
Nonetheless, exploitation is not a power relationship. Consider,
as a limiting case, simple commodity production where the pro-
ducers can earn a good living just by producing for themselves but
prefer to earn even more by engaging in trade with each other.
Although the exchange may give rise to exploitation, there is no
power involved at all. No producers are compelled by the "force of
circumstances" to offer their products on the market or coerced to
do so by others. Nor is there any subordination in the production
process. Although the power ofthe state is presupposed as a back-
ground condition, it is a relation between the state and each of the
producers, not among the latter. Although class relations and
power relations are closely connected to exploitation, the three
phenomena are distinct - logically and sometimes empirically.
In Capital I Marx discusses at some length the determinants of
the rate of exploitation in capitalism. This rate is defined as the
ratio of surplus value to the value of labor power. The latter de-
pends on the real wage and the labor content of the goods that
enter into the real wage. Hence, the rate of exploitation depends
on the length of the working day, the real wage, and the labor
value of goods. Of these, the first two are objects of the class
struggle, whereas the third can change only through general tech-
nical progress. A cheapening of consumption goods nevertheless
has an impact on the class struggle, by modifying the bargaining
terms of the parties.
A long chapter is devoted to the struggle over the length of the
working day in England, culminating in a discussion of the Ten
Hours Bill that was passed in l848. Marx's analyses of this event
are both powerful and incoherent. He offers, in fact, three separate
explanations without making it dear how they are related to each
other.
First, he argues that the bill passed because it was in the interest
89
Exploitation
of "society," represented by the government. The excessive ex-
ploitation of the workers through long working days was threat-
ening the vital forces of the nation. Overworked and underfed
workers make bad soldiers. Their poor living conditions were a
breeding ground for epidemics, which in tum threatened the other
classes as well.
Next, Marx claimed that the bill was carried because of the
active efforts of the working class, supported by the landowning
aristocracy. Although the latter did not in themselves have an
interest in a shorter working day for the workers, they needed
their help in their own struggle against the capitalists over the
proposed repeal of the Com Laws. The repeal, by allowing for
import of cheap Continental grain, would reduce the price of food
and thereby modify the bargaining terms between labor and cap-
ital in favor of the latter. The landowners, needless to say, wanted
to retain their monopoly power. They could offer the workers their
assistance in wearing down capitalist opposition to the Ten Hours
Bill, in return for working-class support in regard to the Com
Laws. Marx's analysis of this triangular class relation, with multi-
ple opportunities for alliance formation and strategic behavior,
was one of his most important achievements.
Finally, and somewhat perplexingly, Marx suggests that there
was no capitalist opposition to the bill. On the contrary, the bill
was passed because it was in the interest of the capitalist class as a
whole, although contrary to that of each individual capitalist. On
this view, the capitalists were placed in a Prisoner's Dilemma. The
excessive exploitation of the workers threatened their physical
survival and hence the continued existence of the capitalist system
itself. It was in the collective interest of the capitalist class not to
kill off the goose that was laying the golden eggs. Yet any indi-
vidual capitalist had always an incentive to exploit his workers to
the hilt. If other capitalists showed more moderation, he could
gain an edge on them in competition by exploiting his workers
more heavily; and he would be only marginally hurt by the rav-
ages he thereby caused. If other capitalists acted according to
short-term greed, he would be forced to follow suit, on pain of
bankruptcy. Again, this is a powerful analysis, but somewhat
flawed, as Marx does not explain how the capitalists overcame
90
Exploitation in History
their free-rider problem. To say that the Ten Hours Bill was passed
because it was in the interest of "capital" would be to commit the
twin mistakes of methodological holism and unsupported func-
tional explanation. It is, moreover, difficult to reconcile this ac-
count with the others.
Marx had no good explanation of the real wage rate. The prob-
lem is in itself very difficult, and in addition Marx suffered from a
self-imposed handicap. His view that labor power is a commodity
that is produced with specific amounts of consumption goods as
inputs led him to the absurdly mechanistic view that, when tech-
nical progress leads to a fall in the value of consumption goods,
wages must also fall. automatically and proportionally. In reality,
when capitalists and workers bargain over the benefits made pos-
sible by cheaper consumption goods there is no reason to think
that the capitalist will end up with everything. To some extent,
Marx recognizes this fact when he refers to a "historical and moral
element" in the value of labor power. Yet he does not provide an
explanation of why wages differ across countries or over time. He
asserts that they are determined by the class struggle and not sim-
ply by the play of supply and demand in a perfectly competitive
labor market. Yet he does not provide a theory of bargaining that
could lend some predictive and explanatory power to this asser-
tion. To some extent, he is absolved by the failure of any later
economist to do much better.
The intensity of labor also enters into the determination of the
rate of exploitation. To make the workers work harder is in many
respects like making them work longer. Both methods increase the
amount of labor extracted from the workers in any given twenty-
four-hour period. Both have similar effects on the rate at which
labor power is worn down and the rate at which it must be com-
pensated. Increasing the intensity of labor does also, however,
entail increased costs of supervision. Marx argues, therefore, that
piece wages are more suited to capitalist production, because they
force the workers to police themselves, at no cost to the capitalist.
He forgets that complex industrial technology often requires the
cooperation and coordination of many workers, in a way that does
not lend itself to piece wages because there are no "pieces" that
can be attributed to the individual worker. An alternative would
91
Exploitation
be to have the workers police each other. In part this is achieved
by trade unions. Unionized firms have procedures for grievance
and conflict resolution that reduce the scope for individual opposi-
tion and sabotage and the need for constant supervision of the
workers.
EXPLOITATION AND JUSTICE
Exploitation is a normative, critical concept. This is less obvious in
English than in German, which uses different terms, ausniitzen and
ausbeuten, for the neutral sense "making use of' and the critical
sense "taking unfair advantage of." Marx uses the latter term,
which has unambiguous normative connotations. Also, it is im-
possible to read the burning pages of Capital I without sensing
Marx's indignation at the practices he is describing. The conclu-
sion is almost unavoidable that part of Marx's indictment of cap-
italism rests on its It is unfair that some should be able to
earn an income without working, whereas others must toil to eke
out a miserable existence.
Yet Marx explicitly denies that he is advocating a particular
conception of justice. He asserts that theories of morality and jus-
tice are ideological constructions, which only serve to justify and
perpetuate the existing property relations. Actions are said to be
just or unjust according to a moral code corresponding to a partic-
ular mode of production. In capitalism, slavery and fraud are un-
just; the extraction of surplus labor is not. There is no trans-
historical, nonrelativistic conception of justice. Nor is there a
communist theory of justice. Rather, communism will be a society
beyond justice. For similar reasons he also rejected the view that
communism substitutes altruist motivations for selfish ones and
asserted that the very distinction between altruism and egoism will
be transcended in communism.
It remains a puzzle how Marx could hold these views and also
characterize capitalism and communism in terms that strongly
suggest a particular conception of justice. One is left with the
answer, although it is difficult to accept when interpreting a writer
of Marx's stature, that he did not really understand what he was
doing. He was a bit like M. Jourdain, the title character in Mo-
92
Exploitation and Justice
liere's play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who is astonished to learn
that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing that
he was doing anything so fancy. Unlike M. Jourdain, however,
Marx went out of his way to refute the correct deSCription of what
he was doing.
There are several reasons why Marx felt compelled to deny that
one could talk about justice in a meaningful. nonrelativistic way.
He was strongly repelled by sanctimonious phrases about justice
that served only to legitimate the horrible practices of capitalism.
He was also very hostile to moral or moralizing conceptions of
communism, believing them to be reactionary in effect if not in
intent. More deeply, his attitude is explained by the Hegelian and
teleological roots of his thought. He believed that historical devel-
opment was governed by laws of motion operating with iron ne-
cessity, so that moral condemnations were either pointless or su-
perfluous. Communism cannot come about before conditions are
objectively ready for it; and when they are, capitalism will fall
away by itself. As long as exploitation is historically necessary, it
will remain; as soon as its time is past, it will disappear. In neither
stage is there a room for moral strictures.
These are highly implausible views. They constitute what is
sometimes called scientific socialism, by far the least scientific part
of Marx's thought. To see what is wrong with them, we can begin
by distinguishing between two senses of "socially necessary ex-
ploitation." On the one hand, one might argue that exploitation is
socially necessary if an attempt to reduce or eliminate it would
defeat its purpose by hurting the very people it was supposed to
benefit. With less exploitation the exploited would be worse off:
Although less exploited, they would suffer in income or welfare.
On the other hand, exploitation could be said to be socially neces-
sary when a reduction would endanger the prospects of the future
communist society, even if it would improve the welfare of those
currently exploited. The first idea is similar to that proposed by
John Rawls in A Theory of Justice: Deviations from equality are
tolerable as long as they work to the benefit of the worst-off group
in society. It might be necessary, for instance, to pay skilled people
more than others, in order to induce them to use their socially
valuable talents.
93
Exploitation
The second idea was embraced by Marx, with a twist. He be-
lieved exploitation to be necessary in two distinct senses: It was
both inevitable and indispensable. Moreover, it was inevitable be-
cause it was indispensable. He never doubted that the advent of
communism was certain. He was confident that exploitation was a
necessary condition for communism. Hence, he could conclude
that it was indeed inevitable. There are several reasons why he
believed exploitation to be an indispensable stepping-stone to
communism. The majority must work more than is needed for
their subsistence to ensure free time for a creative minority. With-
out exploitation the artistic and scientific achievements of the past
would have been impossible. The development of the productive
forces requires the relentless operation of the profit motive, at least
up to the point when that very development has created the mate-
rial conditions for a society in which further development can take
place as part of the general self-realization of the individuals. Fi-
nally, the existence of a mass of exploited workers creates the
indispensable subjective condition for a communist revolution, at
the very time when the material conditions are being created.
Hence, one can understand why Marx was fond of citing a verse
by Goethe:
Sollte diese Qual uns qualen,
Da sie unsre Lust vermehrt,
Hat nieht Myriaden Seelen
Timur's Herrsehaft aufgezehrt?
[Should this torture tonnent us
Since it brings us greater pleasure?
Were not through the rule of Timur
Souls devoured without measure?]
This detached attitude to the sufferings of mankind contrasts
strangely with the indignation Marx expressed in many other
places. It is also quite unacceptable. For one thing, it neglects the
fact that individuals who live here and now have rights that pre-
vent us from sacrificing them as pawns in a wider historical game.
For another, even if we disregard the issue of rights and consider
the matter as a pure utilitarian calculus, the sacrifice of those cur-
rently living for the sake of future generations cannot be justified,
except on the unjustifiable assumption that we can know for cer-
94
Exploitation and Justice
tain that it is sufficient and necessary to bring about communism
(as Marx conceived it). Perhaps the most disastrous part of the
legacy of Marxism is the intellectual hubris involved in the belief
that one can know and predict with confidence the outcome of
current conflicts and, indeed, use that knowledge to justify the
strategies adopted in the struggle.
It is time to look at the evidence on the other side. What are the
reasons for believing that Marx entertained a conception of justice?
What is that conception? Is it plausible? There are two kinds of
textual evidence to be considered. On the one hand, we must
consider what Marx says about capitalism to get a clue to the sense
in which it might be unjust. On the other hand, we need to look at
his far less numerous statements about communism to see whether
they offer a positive conception of justice.
Quite generally, almost any page in Capital, opened at random,
conveys a very strong impression that Marx is arguing the case for
the prosecution in moral terms. More specifically, he frequently
refers to the capitalist extraction of surplus value as theft, embez-
zlement, robbery, and stealing. These are terms that immediately
imply that an injustice is being committed. Moreover, the sense in
which it is an injustice cannot be the relativistic one. Marx insists
that, with respect to capitalist conceptions of justice, exploitation,
unlike cheating and fraud, is fair. The sense in which extraction of
surplus value is unfair must refer to a nonrelativistic, trans-
historical conception. This argument is one important piece of
evidence that Marx thought capitalism to be unjust. It is supported
by a rare explicit statement from the 1861-3 Critique, where Marx
says that capitalism will disappear when labor recognizes that the
products are its own and that its separation from the means of
production is an injustice. Each worker has the right to his own
product, or at least its labor time equivalent. Capitalism is an un-
just system because some get more and others less than they have
contributed.
The main evidence for Marx's conception of justice in commu-
nism is, paradoxically, also a main source for the view that Marx
had no such conception. This is the Critique o/the Gotha Program, in
which Marx makes an influential distinction between two stages
of communism. The full communist society cannot emerge directly
95
Exploitation
from capitalism. In a first stage people will still be dominated by a
capitalist mentality, including, among other things, the refusal to
work unless paid a proportional wage. Hence, in this stage the
principle of distribution is "To each according to his contribution."
In the higher stage this constraint disappears. Work itself becomes
"the prime want" of life; the springs of social wealth "flow more
abundantly"; and society can "inscribe on its banner: From each
according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
The contribution principle, according to Marx, is flawed in a
way that the needs principle is not. It embodies a bourgeois con-
ception of formal rights that is insensitive to the actual needs of
individuals. One who has the capacity to work harder or longer
than others also earns more, although that person's needs may be
no greater than the needs of others. For equal amounts of work a
worker who has a family to support earns the same income as one
who does not, although their needs are clearly different. These
defects are eliminated in the higher stage of communism. Accord-
ing to Marx, this represents a transition from a society governed by
rights to a society in which rights and justice no longer have any
role to play.
His argument (somewhat reconstructed) that distribution ac-
cording to rights is necessarily inadequate goes as follows. A code
of justice singles out various properties of persons as criteria for
distributing goods among them. Because a code must be written
and explicit, it can list qnly a finite number of properties. Human
variety and diversity, on the other hand, are limitless. Two indi-
viduals who are alike in all the respects mentioned by the code
could nevertheless differ in other respects. Any code of justice
must treat unequal individuals equally. If the respects in which the
individuals differ are relevant for the distribution of goods among
them, the code of justice will produce unjust results. Because the
range of potentially relevant features is also limitless, one cannot
ensure ahead of application of the code that it will invariably yield
the right results.
The argument is self-defeating in an obvious way. Marx is argu-
ing in prose against the possibility of speaking prose. The reference
to "defects" in the contribution principle presupposes a normative
criterion, that is, a superior principle of justice. To reject one prin-
96
Exploitation and Justice
ciple Marx must appeal to another. The contribution principle is
assessed in light of the needs principle. Although Marx does not
say in so many words what the latter amounts to, the most natural
interpretation, given the examples he adduces to refute the contri-
bution principle, is that goods ought to be distributed so as to
equalize welfare. This is a well-known theory of justice, which
certainly cannot serve the function of refuting the possibility of a
theory of justice.
The valid core in Marx's argument is that. when it comes to
implementing a theory of justice, one has to rely on a finite number
of observable properties. This is equally true for distribution accord-
ing to needs. The welfare ofindividuals cannot be observed directly,
as if they were walking around with a "hedonometer" attached to
them. Distribution must be regulated by observable features of
individuals that are known to have a general correlation with the
ability to achieve welfare. In any given case, the correlation might
not hold, or it might hold only imperfectly. A person with a physical
handicap (for which he is not compensated) might live a much
happier life than most people. Conversely, people with extraordi-
nary artistic or scientific gifts might live lives of misery because they,
much better than others, are able to see how far their achievements
fall short of their ideals. Such examples show only that when
applying a theory of justice it is absurd to search for fine-tuned
perfection. Any attempt to approach perfect equality of welfare
would probably defeat its purpose, because of the costs involved in
an exact assessment of who needs what.
We are still left with another puzzle. Marx's analysis of cap-
italism condemns exploitation by appealing to the principle "To
each according to his labor contribution." Marx's analysis of com-
munism condemns that very principle by appealing to the princi-
ple "To each according to his needs." The puzzle can be resolved
by imputing to Marx a two-tier or hierarchical theory of justice.
The ideal or first-best conception is distribution according to
needs. In the lower state of communism, as it emerges out of
capitalism, people will still act on selfish motives. Moreover, work
will still be drudgery and offer few opportunities for self-realiza-
tion. Implementing the needs principle under these conditions
would be disastrous, because no one would be motivated to work
97
Exploitation
hard. There would be, in fact, a Prisoner's Dilemma: All would
benefit by all working hard, but without a link between individual
contribution and individual reward all would prefer to shirk. To
overcome this problem one must create a link between effort and
reward; this is what the contribution principle does. It is a prag-
matic or second-best approximation to the ideal of equal welfare.
It promotes equality because it prescribes equal pay for equal
work, although it also violates equality by allowing equal pay for
unequal needs. If an able-bodied capitalist earns an income with-
out working, it is a violation of the contribution principle that
cannot be justified by the needs principle. Exploitation is con-
demned by the first-best as well as by the second-best principle of
distributive justice.
The theory I have constructed, on the basis of some of Marx's
writings, can be challenged on many grounds. One may appeal to
other of his writings to argue that he did not hold any theory of
justice. I have given my reasons for thinking that this argument
cannot be decisive. More relevantly, one might argue against the
theory itself. One might object, first, that the contribution principle
does not allow us to understand what is wrong about exploitation;
second, that it is not the best pragmatic approximation to the
needs principle; and third, that the needs principle itselfis indefen-
sible.
The contribution principle tells us that exploitation is always
and inherently unjust. Here are two counterexamples. Consider
first an interaction between two individuals who differ in two
respects. Although both have some capital. one has more than the
other. The one who has less capital likes to have a lot of leisure but
does not care much about income; the other has the opposite
priority. It could then happen that the first does not even work up
all his capital. whereas the second has used up hers. The second
would then offer to sell her labor power to the first. The poor
person, in other words, exploits the rich person. It would be con-
trary to all our intuitions to say that the poor person is acting
objectionably. This kind of situation probably does not arise fre-
quently, but there is nothing wildly improbable about it. It demon-
strates, I think conclusively, that exploitation is not inherently
wrong.
98
Exploitation and Justice
The second counterexample is more controversial but also more
relevant for real-life problems. Consider two persons who have the
same skills and capital endowments but differ in the importance
they attach to present as opposed to future consumption. One of
them is more willing to postpone consumption than the other. She
will save part of her earning and accumulate more capital, where-
as the other spends all his current income. After some time the first
has accumulated more capital than she can profitably use. She will
offer the other to work for her, at a wage that exceeds what he
could gain by himself. True, he will be exploited - but who cares?
In Robert Nozick's phrase, what is wrong about "capitalistic acts
between consenting adults"? Both benefit from the transaction,
and nobody else is harmed. The example suggests that exploitation
is legitimate when the unequal capital endowments have a
"clean" causal history. Actual cases will be less clear-cut, but I do
not think one can block the argument by asserting that it will
never apply in reality.
These counterexamples do not show that exploitation, in the
typical case, is not morally objectionable. Nor do they detract from
the usefulness of the notion in broader historical analyses. Exploi-
tation in history has almost always had a thoroughly unclean
causal origin, in violence, coercion, or unequal opportunities.
What they show is that exploitation is not a fundamental moral
concept. Exploitation, when objectionable, is so because of specific
features of the situation that are not always present. Further work
ought to focus on these features while continuing to study exploi-
tation as an important special case.
The contribution principle, therefore, is not a good tool for fine-
tuned investigations into the morality of capitalism. Nor is it a very
good approximation to the ideal of equality of welfare. A better
pragmatic compromise - one that takes account of the selfish
motivations of most individuals - is John Rawls's proposal that
institutions ought to be arranged so as to make the worst-off as
well off as possible. Or one might advocate the slightly different
proposal that inequalities of welfare are to be tolerated as long as
they make everybody better off. Both of these are more in the spirit
of welfare egalitarianism than the contribution principle. Because
that principle does not allow for redistributive taxation, it could
99
Exploitation
lead to quite large welfare inequalities. The comparison is admit-
tedly somewhat artificial, because Marx's description of the first
stage of communism has too little structure to allow us to deduce
what the distributions of income and welfare could look like. Yet,
with respect to any given structure, it would be true that Rawls's
principle, or something like it, would yield the best approximation
to equality of welfare.
Take, finally, the principle "To each according to his needs." It
is sometimes argued that by satisfaction according to needs Marx
meant that each and every person would be able to satisfy each
and every need to the point of satiation. Through a combination of
material abundance and the elimination of needs that are inher-
ently insatiable, individuals would be able to take what they want-
ed, when they wanted it, from the common stock of goods. There
is some textual evidence for imputing this extremely utopian con-
ception to Marx, but I believe that it is not only more charitable
but also more plausible to interpret the needs principle as a state-
ment of welfare egalitarianism.
As a first-best theory of justice, that view is very attractive. Wel-
fare is what we care about directly; income and other resources
matter only to the extent that they provide us with welfare. Also,
there is a general presumption in favor of equality that places the
burden of proof on its opponents. There are many problems - of
information, motivation, and decision costs - that stand in the
way of untrammeled equality of welfare, but these, one might
argue, are irrelevant for the construction of an ideal theory.
In reply one might want to question the relevance of a theory
that is so ideal that it has to abstract from some of the most funda-
mental features of the human condition, but this is not the objec-
tion I want to pursue here. Rather, I want to point to one conse-
quence of welfare egalitarianism that seems to run strongly
counter to our ethical intuitions. If some people have desires,
tastes, preferences, or plans that are very expensive to realize, they
would have to get a disproportionate amount of society's scarce
resources. It is hard to accept that this would be a fair allocation.
An expensive taste is not like a handicap, for which people ought
justly to be compensated. Society must reserve itself the right to
warn its members that if they develop expensive tastes they will
100
Bibliography
not be able to satisfy them to the extent needed to guarantee
equality of welfare. As a result, people will on the whole cultivate
less expensive tastes than if their satisfaction had been underwrit-
ten by society (to the extent compatible with equal welfare for all).
A further consequence is that people will on the whole achieve
higher welfare levels, because the scarce resources can now be
used to greater effect.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Introduction. The best treatments of exploitation are found in a book and
several articles by John Roemer: A General Theory of Exploitation and Class
(Harvard University Press, 1982); "Property relations vs surplus-value in
Marxian exploitation," Philosophy and Public Affairs 11, (1982): 28l-313;
"Should Marxists be interested in exploitation?" Philosophy and Public
Affairs l4 (1985): 30-65.
Exploitation.jreedom, and force. A useful typology of forms of economic
coercion is Y. Lieberman and M. Syrquin, "On the use and abuse of
rights," Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 46 (l983): 25-40.
The involuntary character of feudal exploitation is argued in S. Fenoaltea,
"The rise and fall of a theoretical model: the manorial system," Journal of
Economic History 35 (1975): 386-409. The question of whether workers
are forced (or coerced) to sell their labor power is discussed in G. A.
Cohen, "The structure of proletarian unfreedom," Philosophy and Public
Affairs 12 (1983): 3-33, and D. Zimmerman, "Coercive wage offers,"
Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (1981): 121-45. An exposition of the
neoclassical theory of exploitation is found in M. Bronfenbrenner, Income
Distribution Theory (Macmillan, 1971).
Exploitation in history. An analysis of exploitation among nations is J.
Roemer, "Unequal exchange, labour migration, and international capital
flows: a theoretical synthesis," in P. Desai (ed.), Marxism, the Soviet Econo-
my, and Central Planning: Essays in Honor of Alexander Ehrlich (MIT Press,
1983), pp. 34-60. Some data on income inequality under market so-
cialism are found in S. Estrin, Self-Management: Economic Theory and
Yugoslav Practice (Cambridge University Press, 1983). An outstanding
study of exploitation in classical antiquity is G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, The
Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (Duckworth, 1981). Detailed analy-
ses of the modalities of feudal exploitation are found in several articles by
Marc Bloch, reprinted in his Melanges Historiques (Paris: SEVPEN, 1961).
An imaginative and stimulating discussion of economic, social. and politi-
101
Exploitation·
cal aspects of exploitation in nineteenth-century England is Karl Polanyi,
The Great Trans/ormation (Beacon Press, 1957). The role of trade unions in
modern capitalism is well explained in R. B. Freeman and J. L. Medoff,
What Do Unions Do? (Basic Books, 1984). Their book can be usefully
supplemented by O. Williamson, M. Wachter, and J. Harris, "Under-
standing the employment relation: the analysis of idiosyncratic ex-
change," Bell Journal of Economics 6 (1975): 250-80.
Exploitation and justice. The two books that figure prominently in the
foreground or background of discussions of this problem are J. Rawls, A
Theory 0/ Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971), and R. Nozick, Anarchy,
State, and Utopia (Blackwell, 1974). Recent book-length treatments of the
place of moral theory in Marxism include A. Buchanan, Marx and Justice
(Methuen, 1982), and S. Lukes, Marxism and Morality (Oxford University
Press, 1985). Good discussions of some specific substantive problems in-
clude Roemer, "Should Marxists be interested in exploitation?"; and G.
A. Cohen, "Robert Nozick and Wilt Chamberlain," in J. Arthur and W.
Shaw (eds.), Justice and Economic Distribution (Prentice-Hail, 1978), pp.
246-62. An extensive criticism of welfare egalitarianism is R. Dworkin,
"What is equality? Part 1: Equality of welfare," Philosophy and Public
Affairs 10 (1981): 185-246.
102
6
HISTORICAL MATERIALISM
INTRODUCTION
M
ARX had both an empirical theory of history and a spec-
ulative philosophy of history. The former, which has come
to be known as historical materialism, is a set of macrosociological
generalizations about the causes of stability and change in so-
cieties. The latter, largely of Hegelian inspiration, offers a scheme
for interpreting all historical events in terms of their contribution
to realizing the end of history - in both senses of that tenn. Com-
munism is both the goal of history and the point at which it comes
to rest. Although there may be development and change in com-
munism, it will not involve qualitative transformations of the so-
cial structure.
The speculative conception involves a division of history into
three stages: preclass society, class society, and postclass society. In
a different terminology, the stages are referred to as primitive uni-
ty, alienation, and unity-with-differentiation. Historical mate-
rialism is an investigation of the middle stage, the historical class
societies. Not unsurprisingly, the speculative, teleological thinking
impinges on the empirical part of the theory, and especially on the
view that the successive sets of property relations in history are
nothing but instruments for promoting technical change and thus,
ultimately, for preparing communism. A major gap, or flaw, in
Marx's theory of history is that he does not provide a plausible
mechanism to connect the thirst for surplus labor with the devel-
opment of the productive forces. Another, related flaw is that he
does not spell out why men should have an incentive to change
the property relations when and because the existing ones cease to
be optimal for the development of the productive forces. In one
103
Historical Materialism
word, Marx's teleological bent made him think he could dispense
with microfoundations.
Historical materialism has two sides to it. On the one hand, it is a
general theory of the structure and dynamics of any mode of pro-
duction; on the other hand, it is a theory of the historical sequence
of modes of production. The first is about what all modes of pro-
duction have in common with each other; the second, about how
they differ.
Asiatic m.o.p. Slavery Serfdom Capitalism
superstructure superstructure superstructu re superstructure
relations of relations of relations of relations of
production production production production
productive productive productive productive
forces forces forces forces
The first of the historical modes of production is the Asiatic one,
based on state ownership of land. Then follow the better-known
forms of slavery, serfdom, and capitalism. Each of these modes of
production has an economic basis and a political and ideological
superstructure. In the economic basis we find the relations of pro-
duction (essentially: property forms) and the productive forces
(essentially: technology). By the thickness of the lines in the ac-
companying table, I have tried to indicate how much Marx wrote
about these various aspects of historical development. The eco-
nomic study of capitalism is, in sheer quantitative terms, by far the
most important part of his work. He also wrote a great deal about
the politics and ideology of capitalism and about precapitalist eco-
nomic fonnations. There is very little about superstructural phe-
nomena in precapitalist societies.
Marx's theory is very unevenly balanced. The general theory is
set out in one long, terse paragraph in the preface to A Critique of
Political Economy and in various rambling, disconnected passages in
The German Ideology. Because it is formulated at a very high level of
abstraction, the central concepts can be elucidated only if we go to
Marx's Writings on economic history, class struggle, and politics.
There, however, we encounter two disconcerting facts. On some
points Marx has almost nothing to say. In particular, the paucity of
104
The Development of the Productive Forces
writings on precapitalist politics makes it very difficult to recon-
struct a general Marxist theory of the relation between economics
and politics. On other points, where Marx does have something to
say, what he says appears to be in flat contradiction with the
general theory. Some of these inconsistencies are not very serious,
but others arise at the very core of the theory. For one thing, the
general theory of what drives the transition from one mode of
production to another is not borne out by Marx's historical and
political writings. For another, the concept of a mode of produc-
tion is less central in his historical works than one would expect.
Instead of the periodization of history into four modes of produc-
tion based on different forms of exploitation, Marx punctuates
history into various stages of the rise and fall of the market.
The most disturbing feature of Marx's historical theories and
writings is their lack of integration with one another. We are told
three different stories about historical development. There is the
story summarized in the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto:
All history is the history of class struggle. Then there is the equally
well-known story set out in the preface to A Critique of Political
Economy: What history is all about is the development of the pro-
ductive forces. Finally, there is the account that dominates in the
Grundrisse and Capital: History is the process whereby isolated pro·
ducers begin to trade with each other, to produce for exchange and
ultimately for surplus. Even taken separately, these accounts are
shot through with ambiguities and, sometimes, inconsistencies.
Taken together, they form a bewildering and confusing picture. It
could be, of course, that Marx was fully in control of what he was
doing; that he gave us three glimpses of one and the same devel-
opment, seen from different vantage points. In the absence of a
coherent reconstruction, it seems more plausible that he suffered
from a severe lack of intellectual control.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PRODUCTIVE FORCES
Historical materialism is not simply a theory that accords a priv-
ileged place to economic factors. It is, more specifically, a form of
technological determinism. The rise and fall of successive property
regimes are explained by their tendency to promote or fetter tech-
105
Historical Materialism
nical change. In Marx's language, this is expressed as follows.
Within each mode of production, there initially obtains a corre-
spondence between the relations of production and the productive
forces. Later the correspondence turns into a contradiction, which
causes "an epoch of social revolution" and the setting up of new
relations of production, which, for a while, reestablish the corres-
pondence.
For most purposes, the productive forces can be taken to mean
everything that promotes the mastery of man over nature, for the
purpose of want satisfaction. (Thus military technology is not in-
cluded among the productive forces. There are forms of tech-
nological detenninism that give prime importance to the means of
destruction, but Marx's is not one of them.) Technology, science.
and human skills are the most important productive forces. Marx
sometimes. but inconsistently with his general theory. also counts
sheer manpower as a productive force. The development of the
productive forces is measured by the degree to which. under con-
stant external conditions. the same goods can be produced with
less human labor. Because external conditions may change. such
development need not bring about an actual reduction in neces-
sary labor time and human drudgery. Increasing technical sophis-
tication may be offset. for example. by depletion of exhaustible
resources. In a full statement of Marx's theory we must take ac-
count both of the actual level of productivity and of the hypo-
thetical level that would be reached under constant external
conditions.
The relations of production are roughly what in non-Marxist lan-
guage is called property rights. with a few nuances. They include
only property of productive forces. The presence of domestic
slaves, for instance, is not sufficient to create the relations of pro-
duction characteristic of slavery. because such slaves are consump-
tion goods rather than productive assets. Also, relations of produc-
tion need not take the form of legal ownership. backed by state
power. In societies with a weak central power the relations of
production may just amount to effective control. underwritten by
private violence or by a dominant ideology. that stops others from
taking over. or even from wanting to take over.
106
The Development of the Productive Forces
To describe the relations of production in a given society, we
must know the answer to the following questions. Do the immedi-
ate producers own their labor power, in part or in whole? Do they
own their nonlabor means of production, in part or in whole? If
they do not, is the owner an individual or a collectivity? Answers
to the first two questions allow us to distinguish among slavery,
serfdom, simple commodity production, and capitalism. The an-
swer to the last question allows us, in addition, to distinguish
between serfdom and the Asiatic mode of production, or between
private-property capitalism and state capitalism. The relations of
production are also what distinguish the modes of production
from one another.
A set of relations of production corresponds to the productive
forces when it is optimally suited to develop the latter. Now there
is no set of relations of production that is optimal for the develop-
ment of the productive forces under all conditions. What relations
are in fact optimal depends on specific historical circumstances. On
a first approximation we may say that the level of development of the
productive forces determines what relations are optimal for their further
development. This is not quite accurate, however. To see why, con-
sider the reason why communism, according to Marx, will
eventually become a superior framework for developing the pro-
ductive forces. The material conditions created by capitalism will,
under communist conditions, allow the full and free self-realiza-
tion of the individual and, as a by-product, an unprecedented
expansion of the productive forces. These material conditions in-
clude a large surplus that will make work a matter of free choice
rather than necessary drudgery. They cannot, therefore, be stated
in terms of the development of the productive forces, because a
high level of their development is compatible with a low level of
actual productivity.
A contradiction between forces and relations of production
means, simply, the absence of correspondence. There is contradic-
tion when the existing relations of production are less efficient at
developing the productive forces than some other relations would
be. This need not imply stagnation. The contradiction sets in when
the rate of technical change is smaller than it could have been, not
107
Historical Materialism
when it becomes smaller than it was previously.2 What causes the
contradiction is the development of the productive forces that took
place during the period when the relation was one of correspon-
dence. Any mode of production stimulates a development of the
productive forces that will lead to its own obsolescence. Being
obsolescent, it will then be thrown on the scrap heap of history
and a new one, better suited to the historical task of developing the
productive forces, will take its place. A change in the relations of
production occurs when and because the existing relations cease
to be optimal for the development of the productive forces.
The only substantive assertion in this argument is the claim that
a change in the relations of production occurs when and because
the existing relations cease to be optimal for the development of
the productive forces. As it stands, this is an unsupported func-
tional explanation. Marx owes us an account of how the less than
optimal character of the existing relations of production motivates
individual men to collective action for the purpose of ushering in a
new set of relations. There are good reasons for thinking that it will
be hard to come up with such an account. From the point of view
of the individual economic agent, the benefits of a change in the
property regime are remote in time, subject to uncertainty and
independent of his participation in the collective action. Even
when there is a "need" for new relations of production, one can-
not assume without further argument that it will be fulfilled. Men
are not the puppets of history; they act for goals and motives of
their own.
When we turn to Marx's writings on the historical modes of
production, they do not provide applications and clarifications of
the general theory. There is no suggestion that each of the three
2 Thus one would be doubly mistaken in thinking that a contradiction can be
immediately detected by a decline in the actual surplus. First, the development of
the productive forces can be assessed only by a thought experiment, in which the
performance of the new technology under the given external conditions is com-
pared with its performance under the previous conditions (when it did not
actually exist). Second, the optimal or suboptimal rate of that development can
be assessed only by another thought experiment, in which it is compared with
the development that would have taken place under different relations of pro-
duction. All of this amounts to saying that the notion of a contradiction between
forces and relations of production is very much a theoretical concept.
108
The Development of the Productive Forces
precapitalist modes of production divides into a progressive stage,
in which the relations of production correspond to the productive
forces, and a regressive stage, in which the correspondence be-
comes a contradiction. On the contrary, Marx says over and over
again that technology was essentially unchanging from antiquity
to the early modern period, with the exception of the invention of
gunpowder, the printing press, and the compass. The destabilizing
element in the ancient world was not the development of the
productive forces but the growth of population. At times Marx
appears to have thought of population as a productive force, so
that its growth could be taken as an instance of the development of
the productive forces, but this is clearly inconsistent with the gen-
eral theory. Population growth does not lead to an increase in
production per capita, although it may lead to an increase in total
production (and in total surplus).
Marx's account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism is
very complex, but it also appears to be inconsistent with the gener-
al theory. A tentative summary of his thought, or at least one
major strand in it, could be the following. Sometime in the six-
teenth or seventeenth century the European economies had be-
come unrecognizably changed, compared to the medieval period.
Population growth, the discovery ofthe New World, the invention
of modern techniques of warfare, along with the destruction of the
military power of the feudal nobility, were the main causes of this
transformation. In this new constellation, merchants and pro-
ducers found that they could increase their surplus by organizing
production on a capitalist basis. The necessary conditions were, on
the one hand, the creation of a free, landless proletariat and, on
the other hand, the accumulation of capital from overseas ac-
tivities. The surplus extraction took place, essentially, by lowering
the real wage, increasing the intensity of work, and extending the
length of the working day. For these purposes, it was most efficient
to assemble the workers in one place, the factory. Once created,
this institution also lent itself to technical change, first somewhat
hesitantly and then at an ever-increasing rate.
In this story, the development of the productive forces plays
only a tertiary role. The prior transformations of the economy that
made capitalist relations optimal did not include technical change,
109
Historical Materialism
except for improvements in the means of destruction. Moreover,
capitalist relations were not introduced because they were optimal
for the development of the productive forces but because they
allowed for a higher surplus at a given technical level. This is a
more plausible account than the general theory, because it imme-
diately provides a link to the motivation of individual economic
agents, but it is not, to repeat, consistent with it. The development
of the productive forces occurs only as a by-product of the intro-
duction of capitalist relations and not in the explanation of why
they came to be introduced.
3
Consider, finally, Marx's account of the impending transition
from capitalism to communism. In this case the general theory
becomes especially implausible. Because Marx insisted that tech-
nical change in capitalism was accelerating rather than slowing
down, he could not argue that capitalism was moribund because
stagnating. Rather, he would have to argue that the workers will
be motivated by the prospect of a communist society that will
allow for technical change at an even higher rate. According to
current theories of revolution (and to common sense), this is a
highly unlikely motivation. People revolt when things are getting
worse or when their expectations of improvement are not fulfilled,
or both; but when things go well they do not take to arms simply
because of the abstract possibility of a society in which things
could go even better.
There are two suggestions in Marx about how to overcome this
problem. One is by dropping the second half of the requirement
that communism will come about "when and because" commu-
nism becomes better suited for the further development of the
productive forces. Marx might argue, that is, that the communist
revolution will be caused by something other than the contradic-
tion between the forces and relations of production but will still
coincide in time with the emergence of that contradiction. The-
3 One modification must be added. One way in which capitalist organization of
production increased the surplus was by exploiting economies of scale, both in
agriculture (through the enclosures of land) and in industry. Although one
would not normally refer to this as a form of technical change. it does at least
create a link between the introduction of capitalist relations and increases in
productivity.
110
The Development of the Productive Forces
oretical argument and historical experience suggest that this happy
coincidence is unlikely. In Trotsky's phrase, "societies are not so
rational in building that the dates for proletarian dictatorship ar-
rive exactly at that moment when the economic and cultural con-
ditions are ripe for socialism." Indeed, the opposite seems to be
true. To be a breeding ground for revolution, a society must be so
backward that any revolution, were it to occur, would be pre-
mature from the point of view of the development of the produc-
tive forces.
The second suggestion is that communism comes about when
capitalism becomes inefficient with respect not to the development
but to the use of the productive forces. The productive forces are
badly utilized when workers are unemployed, machinery lies idle,
and goods produced meet no effective demand. Although the gen-
eral theory does not warrant the description of such phenomena as
a contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of
production, Marx referred to them by such phrases and invoked
them in his theory of the imminent downfall of capitalism. The
objection to this procedure is that there is no guarantee that a
society in which the productive forces are more efficiently used
will also allow for a higher rate of their development. Indeed,
Joseph Schumpeter argued that the dynamic efficiency of cap-
italism is inseparable from its static inefficiency, so that any at-
tempt to reduce the waste and irrationality of capitalism would
also slow it down.
The most fundamental question is, of course, what reasons we
have for thinking that a communist society would be superior to
capitalism when it comes to technical change. The process of inno-
vation may be dissected into two stages. First, there is a search for
new techniques and methods; next, there is the selection of one of
the techniques thrown up by the search (or the retention of the old
technique if no preferred technique is found). Marx argued that
capitalism was consistently inferior to communism with respect to
the second stage, because the profit motive could lead capitalists to
reject socially desirable innovations. He argued that up to a certain
point capitalism was superior to communism with respect to the
first stage. The profit motive is one way of generating technical
change. Free, spontaneous self-realization is another. The latter,
III
Historical Materialism
when feasible, is superior, but it becomes feasible only at a high
level of development of the productive forces, when men are freed
from drudgery. Before that level is reached, capitalism is superior
with respect to the intensity of search and, because this is the
dominant stage in the process, superior with respect to the net
outcome of the two stages.
Schumpeter accepted Marx's argument with respect to the se-
lection efficiency of communism but rejected it with respect to the
search efficiency. Today, it seems more reasonable to reject both
parts of Marx's contention. The experience of the communist
countries suggests that they are clumsy and inefficient both in
making use of the productive knowledge they have and in devel-
oping new knowledge. To think otherwise, one would have to
argue that communism was introduced prematurely in these
countries and that the historical experience does not constitute an
objection to a theory whose central premise is that it should not be
introduced before superiority to capitalism is achieved or within
reach. This observation, though in a sense undeniable, is idling as
long as one does not provide solid reasons for thinking that there
exists a level of the productive forces at which capitalism ceases to
become optimal for their further development.
BASE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE
What is "base" is both lowly and fundamental. Economic ac-
tivities, on the one hand, have often been seen as a dirty business
that no self-respecting man wants to get mixed up with if he can
avoid it. On the other hand, though evil, they form a necessary
prerequisite for other, nobler activities. The history of materialism
is full of such homely truths as Ludwig Feuerbach's "Der Mensch
ist was er isst" ("Man is what he eats") or Berthold Brecht's "Erst
kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral" ("Food before mor-
als"). Even Marx is capable of such trite statements as "The Mid-
dle Ages could not live on Catholicism, nor the ancient world on
politics." The first step toward an understanding of the relation
between the economic base and the political and intellectual su-
perstructure is to see that it cannot be reduced to, or defended by,
these trivially true claims.
The base-superstructure theory is not an assertion that for there
112
Base and Superstructure
to be politics and ideologies at all there also has to be production.
It asserts that the specific kinds of political and intellectual activities
observed in class societies can be explained by reference to equally
specific forms of economic organization. Far from being trivially
true, it is falsifiable and indeed false. Political and intellectual phe-
nomena have a considerable degree of autonomy. They can also -
and note that this is a separate, stronger claim - contribute to
explaining economic phenomena. An illustration - whose cor-
rectness does not concern us here - is Max Weber's suggestion
that an independently arising Protestantism had a causal influence
on the development of capitalism. The weak claim would be sub-
stantiated by the independence of Protestantism, that is, the lack of
an economic explanation; the stronger claim, if it was also shown
that it enters into the explanation of economic phenomena.
G. A. Cohen has proposed a powerful, unified interpretation of
the two central relations of historical materialism, that between
the forces and relations of production and that between base and
superstructure. On his account, both are rendered in terms offunc-
tional explanation. The relations of production are explained
through their beneficial consequences for the development of the
productive forces. The legal, political, and intellectual superstruc-
ture is similarly explained through its beneficial consequence for
the maintenance of the relations of production. In non-Marxist
language, politics and ideas are explained by the fact that they
stabilize property rights; and property rights are explained by the
fact that they give an impetus to technical change.
This does not imply that the superstructure is explained by the
fact that, indirectly, it gives an impetus to technical change. The
superstructure exercises its stabilizing influence on the relations of
production even when they have ceased to be optimal for the
further development of the productive forces. This fact, however,
creates difficulties for the theory. When the relations of production
are no longer explicable in terms of their impact on the productive
forces, must the explanation of their persistence be sought in the
superstructure? This would appear to contradict the view that the
superstructure is explained by its impact on the relations of pro-
duction. Or should we say that nonfunctional relations of produc-
tion are explained by the fact that they were once functional, just
113
Historical Materialism
as nonfunctional properties of organisms are explained by the fact
that they were functional in an earlier. different environment?
That answer runs into a disanalogy between biology and history:
There are no forces that actively resist adaptation in biology. as the
superstructure does in society. Or should we say that the existence
of a superstructure that explains the persistence of nonfunctional
relations of production is itself explained by the fact that it arose at
an earlier time to stabilize the relations of production. which. at
that time. were independently explained by their impact on the
productive forces? That the superstructure. after a certain point.
keeps alive what kept it alive? This. again. would accord a more
independent role to the superstructure than can be easily accom-
modated within the theory. The Marxist response tends to be that
the superstructure turns out to be weaker "in the long run"; it
cannot keep artificially alive forever what has lost the right to live.
In the absence of a theory to circumscribe the limits of the long
run. this statement is unfalsifiable and. hence. unscientific.
On Cohen's interpretation of Marx. the fact that the superstruc-
ture has a causal impact on the base does not exclude that the
former could be explained by the latter. If it could be shown. in
Weber's example. that Protestantism arose or persisted because of
its favorable impact on capitalist relations of production. it would
be explained by economic facts beyond itself. Hence the disagree-
ment between Marx and Weber need not be: Did Protestantism
exercise a causal influence on capitalism. or was it the other way
around? It could also be: Given that Protestantism had a causal
impact on capitalism. did it owe its emergence or persistence to
that impact?
To assess this view. one must first decide what to mean by
"superstructure." First. one can mean all the phenomena that can
be functionally explained by their stabilizing impact on the rela-
tions of production. Prior to empirical investigation. the super-
structure might. for all we know. be empty. Or it might tum out to
include everything noneconomic, as in the somewhat paranoid
explanations of certain Marxists who have explained the most
unlikely phenomena - from criminal behavior to the doctrines of
other Marxists immediately to their left or right - by their stabiliz-
ing impact on capitalist domination.
114
Base and Superstructure
Second, the superstructure could be defined as the set of phe-
nomena that can be explained - functionally or otherwise - in
tenus of the economic structure of society. In addition to the phe-
nomena covered by the first definition, this would include such
facts as the following. Sometimes the distribution of political
power derives in an immediate, transparent way from the distribu-
tion of economic resources: The economically dominant class con-
centrates political power in its own hands. Perhaps surprisingly,
this arrangement can work against the interest of the class. If they
fall victim to short -tenn greed, they can undermine their economic
power by abuse of their political power. This was the pattern, for
instance, of politics in ancient Rome, where the powerful senators-
landowners used state revenues as an additional source of income,
at the expense of public goods and defense. Although this arrange-
ment was not optimal for the relations of production, it is still
explained by them. For another example, consider the tendency of
beliefs to become distorted by class interest or class position. When
the victims of this tendency are members of the economically
dominant class, their distorted beliefs, although explained by the
relations of production, do not reinforce them. In the phrase of the
French historian Paul Veyne, beliefs born of passion serve passion
badly.
Third, one might simply define the superstructure as all non-
economic phenomena. This procedure is unsatisfactory, because it
easily lends itself to verbal juggling. One may, for instance, first
define a phenomenon as superstructural on the grounds that it is
noneconomic and then simply assume that it can be explained by
economic phenomena because the superstructure must be sup-
ported by something more fundamental, the economic base. If this
definition is adopted, one must at least take care not to prejudge
the question of whether the superstructural phenomena are de-
pendent on the economic base.
Of these, I think the second definition accords best with the
Marxist tradition. If we can demonstrate that a set of widely held
beliefs arises directly out of certain economic interests, even if
those beliefs do not serve the latter, most Marxists would probably
relegate them to the superstructure. The definition sometimes goes
together with the view that the superstructure, thus defined, ex-
115
Historical Materialism
hausts all noneconomic phenomena. The contrast with the first
definition, adopted by Cohen, is not just a Question of words. The
important substantive issue involved is whether there are phe-
nomena that fall under the second definition but not under the
first. If there are not, functional explanation would indeed be as
central to Marxism as claimed by Cohen. If there are, as seems
undeniable, it cannot be taken as the privileged form of explana-
tion in historical materialism.
A conceptual problem arises in the Asiatic mode of production
and, more generally, in any society in which the state bureaucracy
is the main exploiting class. Here the relations of production ap-
pear to coincide immediately with the political relations - "rent
and tax coincide" - so that it is difficult to see how the latter could
be explained by the former. A cause and its effect must be distinct
entities. Because Marx wrote so little about superstructural phe-
nomena in precapitalist societies, it is impossible to reconstruct an
answer to this puzzle from his writings. Most probably, there is no
answer. The theory of base and superstructure is a generalization
from societies where it is at least meaningful (which is not to say
that it is true) to other societies in which it cannot even be co-
herently stated.
Marx lived and wrote in a society in which economic and politi-
cal activities were extremely dissociated. In mid-nineteenth-cen-
tury England they were carried out by two distinct sets of people:
Workers did not vote, and capitalists took little interest in politics.
Similarly, in ancient Athens slaves were, of course, excluded from
politics, as were the foreigners who carried on trade and com-
merce. In such societies the base-superstructure distinction is im-
mediately meaningful. It also makes some sense, albeit more ten-
uously, in societies where the same people are involved in both
economics and politics, in different social roles. In modem cap-
italist societies, one can be a worker and also a voter, a busi-
nessman and also a member of parliament. The distinction breaks
down, however, in societies where economic and political power
coincide immediately. Contemporary Soviet Russia is a dramatic
example. In this society there is no independent set of economic
relations that determines the political superstructure; politics is
everywhere.
116
The Stages of HistoricaL DeveLopment
THE STAGES OF HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT
To impose some order on the chaotic appearance of historical
change. it is tempting to assimilate it to other. known phenomena.
The organic metaphors of birth, growth, maturity, decay, and
death present themselves immediately. So do various geometrical
analogies, which allow us to see history as linear, circular, or
spiral. The line underlies images of history as based on constant,
uninterrupted progress. The circle corresponds to visions of the
eternal return, the rise and fall of empires in an unchanging cycle.
The spiraL is a more complex notion. It involves the idea of a cycle
superimposed upon a linear trend, of history repeating itself at
ever-higher levels. The linear model can be summarized as "one
step forward, and then one more step forward"; the circular view
as "one step forward, one step backward." Depending on one's
perspective, the spiral can be seen either as "one step backward,
two steps forward" or as "two steps forward, one step backward."
As practiced especially by nineteenth-century writers, these
analogies had a disastrous influence. They distracted attention
from the task of grounding historical processes in the actions and
motivations of individual men and focused instead on ways of
fitting the changes into some wider pattern. They made it legiti-
mate to explain history from above rather than from below. This is
not to say that there are no such patterns in history, only that, if
there are. an argument is needed to show that they are not a mere
coincidence. One must show, that is, that they can be expected to
arise, under a wide range of circumstances, as the unintended
consequence of the behavior of individuals acting for goals of their
own. Patterns must be explained: They do not provide an explana-
tion of anything.
Marx's three-stage philosophy of history illustrates the pattern
"One step backward, two steps forward." The primitive commu-
nities must be destroyed before community can be re-created at a
higher level. Historical materialism asserts that the successive
stages in this destruction are also the carriers of an uninterrupted
development of the productive forces. As the producers become
increasingly separated from their means of production, their labor
becomes more productive. Separation is carried to the extreme in
117
Historical Materialism
capitalism, which is also the stage in which the development of the
productive forces reaches its highest level.
What is, within this general scheme, the significance of the suc-
cessive modes of production? Granted the necessity of capitalism,
was each of the three precapitalist modes of production an equally
necessary step in the development of humanity toward commu-
nism? Marx seems committed to an affirmative answer but does
not really offer any arguments for it. He does not, for instance,
explain why the Asiatic mode of production could not by itself
have changed into a more decentralized system of serfdom, with-
out the intermediat.e stage of slavery; or - to anticipate what he
might have responded - why serfdom could not have given rise to
capitalism without a prior stage of slavery.
The puzzle becomes even more complicated when we tum to a
quite different periodization of history, which Marx employs
alongside the sequence of modes of production. In the Grundrisse
and in Capital Marx argues that the module of historical develop-
ment is the rise and fall of the market. This process occurs twice in
the history of mankind.
4
The first time it coincides with the Asiatic
and the ancient modes of production; the second time, with
feudalism and capitalism. Although Marx's descriptions of the se-
quence fluctuate somewhat, it appears to be punctuated by five
main stages.
The first stage is production for immediate consumption within
a small community of producers. There is no trade or reinvestment
of a surplus. The transition to the second stage occurs when mem-
bers of different communities accidentally come into contact with
each other, at their borders, and exchange any surplus products
they might have. In the third stage trade becomes regular and
predictable: There is now production for exchange. The long-dis-
tance trade then reacts back upon the community itself, so that, in
the fourth stage, an internal market is created. This stage is also
marked by the emergence of money. The fifth stage, finally, is
4 It is tempting to see an ironical pattern in the recent tendencies toward market
production in the communist countries: Would Marx have said that we are
witnessing the third occurrence of the sequence?
118
The Stages of HistoricaL DeveLopment
characterized by production for surplus. It is defined not simply by
the fact of exploitation but by the fact that the goal of exploitation
is to increase the surplus, not just to consume it. In his Hegelian
moments, Marx refers to this stage as the result of the self-expan-
sion of money. To summarize: External trade changes production
for immediate consumption into production for exchange; internal
trade changes the latter into production for surplus.
This story commits Marx to the existence of production for sur-
plus in the ancient world, when the sequence occurs for the first
time. He occasionally refers to the transformation of a patriarchal
slave economy into one based on the production for surplUS. Else-
where he insists, probably with more justification, on the obstacles
that a slave economy creates for accumulation of surplus. With
slaves it makes little sense to invest in improved means of produc-
tion, because slaves can be expected to treat the tools badly; also,
the psychology of slaveowners is such that they prefer lUXUry con-
sumption to productive investment of the surplus. Another du-
bious implication of the scheme is the idea that external trade not
only occurs before internal trade but is a direct cause of it. By and
large, this does not seem to correspond to the historical experi-
ence. In antiquity, long-distance trade existed alongside local
trade, but a national market was not formed. When it was, in the
early modern period, it happened (as Marx also recognizes else-
where) because of active state intervention, not as a more or less
automatic consequence of foreign trade.
Also, as before, it remains a puzzle why the sequence had to
occur twice. Marx raises the question of why capitalism based on
wage labor did not develop in ancient Rome after the ruin of the
small peasantry, but he does not really offer an explanation. The
most plausible answer, perhaps, is that capitalism did not arise
because there was no competitive national market. Slow transporta-
tion restricted exchange to local markets and international trade in
a few lUXUry goods (and grain). If there had really been a fully
developed internal market, to the extent suggested by Marx, cap-
italism would have been a more likely development. Nor does
Marx explain why slavery gave rise to serfdom. Remarkably, he
nowhere confronts the question of the breakdown of the ancient
119
Historical Materialism
world. The general propositions of historical materialism imply, of
course, that slavery disappeared when and because it became in-
ferior to serfdom as a framework for developing the productive
forces, but neither Marx nor any practicing Marxist historian to
my knowledge has ever seriously considered this explanation.
It is dear that Marx thought that mankind as a whole could not
have skipped any of the stages in either sequence. The modes of
production had to follow each other in a specific order; the rise
and fall of the market had to occur twice, each time through the
same sequence of stages. It is less clear whether he thought that
each country or nation-state had to go through the full sequence,
or whether he admitted the possibility that some countries might
enjoy "advantages of backwardness" and skip one or more stages.
On the one hand, there is a passage in one of the prefaces to Capital
I where he says that "the country that is more advanced indus-
trially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its future."
On the other hand, there is his suggestion, toward the .end of his
life, that Russia might be able to build communism directly on the
basis of the communitarian village system without going through
the capitalist Purgatory. Russia could employ the technology de-
veloped by the capitalist countries without itself having to follow
in their steps.
The lesson from cases of successful or failed economic develop-
ment in the last century seems to be that the position Marx took in
Capital is the more plausible. If a country is too backward, it will
not be able to make productive use of industrial technology. The
rational utilization of borrowed technology requires a complex set
of mental habits that cannot themselves be borrowed. They have
to be developed from within. This need not require the same pro-
cess that was followed by the advanced countries; indeed, the very
existence of more developed countries creates a difference that
makes simple repetition unlikely to succeed. Yet it is hard to deny
that the more successful of the developing countries have followed
the path of unbridled laissez-faire capitalism - a path that, pre-
sumably, will in time make it possible for them to dispense with
that system. If there is any other path, no country has yet found
it.
120
Bibliography
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Introduction. By far the best exposition of historical materialism is G. A.
Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford University Press, 1978),
which supersedes all earlier treatments.
The development of the productive forces. Cohen's account of the explana-
tory role of the productive forces is usefully supplemented by P. van Parijs,
"Marxism's central puzzle," in T. Ball and J. Farr (eds.), After Marx
(Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 88-104. On the relation between
development of the productive forces and population growth, see E.
Boserup, Population and Technological Change (University of Chicago Press,
1981). For a controversial account of the transition to capitalism that
emphasizes surplus extraction rather than technical change, see S. Mar-
glin, "What do bosses do?" in A. Gorz (ed.), The Division of Labour (Long-
man, 1976), pp. 13-54. A very useful summary and discussion of
Trotsky's views is B. Knei-Paz, The Social and Political ThoU9ht of Leon
Trotsky (Oxford University Press, 1977). An influential discussion of the
economic conditions for revolution is J. Davies, "Towards a theory of
revolution," American Sociological Review 27 (1962): 1-19.
Base and superstructure. On this problem Cohen's book is supplemented
by two of his later articles: "Reconsidering historical materialism," Nomos
26 (1983): 226-51, and "Restrictive and inclusive historical mate-
rialism," in B. Chavance (ed.), Marx en Perspective (Ecole des Hautes
Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 1985), pp. 53-76. A challenge to the pos-
sibility of distinguishing base and superstructure in any society is S. Lukes,
"Can the base be distinguished from the superstructure?" in D. Miller and
1. Siedentorp (eds.), The Nature of Political Theory (Oxford University Press,
1983), pp. 103-20.
The stages of historical development. A good conceptual discussion of
Marxist periodizations of history is E. Gellner, "A Russian Marxist philos-
ophy of history," in E. Gellner (ed.), Soviet and Western Anthropology (Co-
lumbia University Press, 1980), pp. 54-82. Historiographic surveys of the
difficulties met by Russian and Chinese communist historians in applying
the Marxist theory of stages to their own countries include C. Black (ed.),
Rewriting Russian History (Praeger, 1956), and A. Feuerwerker (ed.), Histo-
ry in Communist China (MIT Press, 1968). Discussions ofthe Russian dream
- which is older than communism - of enjoying the advantages of back-
wardness and bypassing capitalism include A. Gerschenkron, Economic
Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Harvard University Press, 1966), and
Knei-Paz, Social and Political Thought of Trotsky.
121
7
CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS AND
CLASS STRUGGLE
INTRODUCTION
I
T is a truism that people have an interest in improving their
situation. The strategies available to them are by individual and
collective betterment. Let us focus on the respects in which their
situation can only be collectively improved by the creation of pub-
lic goods that are out of reach of individual effort. In any society
there are organized groups trying to promote the interests, broadly
conceived, of their members. There will also be many individuals
who have strongly felt interests in some public good or collective
action but for various reasons are unable to join forces with other
people with similar interests. Finally, there will be some indi-
viduals who, objectively, would seem to have a strong interest in
some public good, although, subjectively, they do not experience it
that way.
Of these, the second group of people form an unstable category.
If they are unable to rise into the first, they will tend to sink down
to the third. In the long run, it is psychologically difficult to main-
tain a strong desire for something that manifestly is out of reach.
The tension is usually resolved by reducing one's level of aspira-
tions and adjusting one's set of values so as to give less importance
to those that cannot be realized anyway. Occasionally it is also
resolved by adjusting one's beliefs so as to be able to think it
possible to get what one wants, but this solution is inherently less
stable. Usually, sooner or later, the accumulation of evidence
against one's belief will force a readjustment of wants and desires.
Marx's theory of class begins with a certain set of objectively
defined interests, created by relations of exploitation and domina-
tion in production. Objectively speaking, people have an interest
122
The Concept of Class
in not being exploited and dominated. For most of them, this
interest can be realized only by collective action. Individual better-
ment by upward social mobility is an option for some but not for
the great majority. The theory first addresses, albeit very scantily,
the Question of why some objective interests emerge as subjec-
tively felt whereas others do not. It then investigates, much more
extensively, people who have moved up from the third to the
second category and then move farther up into the first. Taken
together, these analyses amount to a theory of class consciousness.
Next, the theory addresses the problem of class struggle. When
there are several organized classes with opposed interests, what
will the outcome be of their confrontation with one another?
Marx argued that this is the central problem in understanding
social change, because he claimed that in the final analysis all
social conflict reduces to class struggle. A crude version of this
claim is that only class interests are capable of crystallizing into
organized interest groups. In the light of the persisting importance
of religious, ethnic, nationalistic, and linguistic social movements,
the claim cannot be defended in this version. Other, more sophisti-
cated versions also turn out to be invalid. Although the centrality
of class struggle in social change cannot be defended as a general
proposition, it was fairly plausible in Marx's time and place. His
theory of class struggle in mid-nineteenth-century Europe remains
one of his most impressive achievements, especially when taken
together with, on the one hand, his theory of exploitation and, on
the other, his theory of the capitalist state.
THE CONCEPT OF CLASS
Marx never said in so many words what he meant by a class. It is
nevertheless possible to reconstruct a definition from his writings
by taking account of what groups he refers to as classes, what
groups he explicitly says are not classes, and what purpose the
concept is to serve in his wider theory. In particular, his view that
classes are the basic units in social conflict requires a definition
that yields a small, determinate, and nonarbitrary number of class-
es. Classes cannot be defined by arbitrary cut-off points on a con-
tinuous scale: They have real existence as organized interest
123
Class Consciousness and Class Struggle
groups, not just as constructs in the eye of the observer. On the
other hand, class cannot be reduced to a dichotomous opposition
between the haves and the have-nots, or the exploiters and the
exploited. It is essential to Marx's approach that the number of
classes, though small, must be greater than two, because otherwise
there would be no room for the class alliances that play an impor-
tant role in his theory of class struggle.
There are some fifteen groups that Marx refers to as classes:
bureaucrats and theocrats in the Asiatic mode of production; free-
men, slaves, plebeians, and patricians under slavery; lord, serf,
guild master, and journeyman under feudalism; industrial cap-
italists, financial capitalists, landlords, peasantry, petty bour-
geoisie, and wage laborers under capitalism. We cannot, however,
simply define the concept of class by this list. To decide whether
the examples form a coherent set, we need a general definition to
check them against. Also, we want to be able to apply the concept
to other societies than those studied by Marx. With respect to the
societies he did study, we need to know whether his enumeration
of classes is exhaustive or whether there could be others beyond
those he cites. We must, in short, know by virtue of which proper-
ties these groups are classes.
One possible criterion can be excluded at the outset: Marx tells
us in so many words that classes are not differentiated by income.
Although members of different classes will, typically, earn differ-
ent incomes, they need not do so; and, even when they do, it is not
by virtue of this fact that they belong to different classes. He also
rejects the idea that classes can be distinguished by the occupations
of their members, that is, by the specific nature of the work they
perform. The work context, not the work itself, is constitutive of
class. Finally, we can exclude the idea that classes are differenti-
ated by status, be it by the informal status criterion of honor or by
the formal criterion of belonging to a legal order. Of these, the first
yields a cultural and the second a juridical distinction; neither is an
economic concept. Marx's reference to patricians and plebeians as
distinct classes can only be seen as a lapse.
5
Although most of the
5 Another lapse in the list is the inclusion of freemen as a separate class. The notion
is incomplete, as it does not specify the relation of the freeman to the other
means of production, besides his own labor power. Once this is done, the catego-
124
The Concept of Class
plebeians were poor, some of them were indistinguishable from
the patricians in all economic respects.
In contemporary social science, income, occupation, and status
are the central concepts in the study of social stratification. This
fact does not imply any inconsistency with Marxism, because
stratification theory and class theory have different purposes. The
latter addresses mainly the question of which organized groups will
be the main actors in collective action and social conflict; the
former, why individuals differ in such respects as deviance, con-
sumption, health, or marriage habits. At least this distinction is
valid with respect to Marx himself, who did not have a sociological
theory in the modern sense of the term. In his dissection of cap-
italism the focus was almost exclusively on economic and political
phenomena, at the expense of the texture and events of everyday
life outside the work place. Later attempts to create a Marxist
sociology based on the concept of class have addressed some of the
same issues as stratification theory. To the extent that the concerns
of the two approaches overlap, they are indeed incompatible, at
least if each of them claims to provide the whole explanation of
the phenomena under study.
Having rejected income, occupation, and status as criteria of
class, four more plausible definitions must be considered: proper-
ty, exploitation, market behavior, and domination. All have been
seriously proposed by followers or scholars of Marx. With the
exception of exploitation, all turn out to be necessary elements in
the final, reconstructed definition. The task of reconstruction is
difficult, because of the variety of economic systems to which the
definition is to be applied. On the one hand, it must work equally
well in market and nonmarket economies; on the other hand, it
must be applicable both to societies in which the means of produc-
tion are individually owned and to societies in which corporate
ownership - by church, state, or the large modern corporation - is
the rule. We begin with the case that most concerned Marx: mar-
ket economies with individual ownership of the means of
production.
ry subdivides into slaveowners. independent producers. and the propertyless free
- three distinct classes rather than one.
125
Class Consciousness and Class Stru99le
Most frequently, class membership is defined by the ownership
or lack of ownership of the means of production. For Marx's pur-
pose, this definition cannot be the whole story, although it surely
is an important part of it. Depending on how it is understood, it is
either too coarse-grained or too fine-grained. It is too coarse if all
agents who own some means of production beyond their own
labor power are included in one class, because this would not
allow us to distinguish landlord, capitalist, artisan, and peasant
from each other. It is too fine if agents are relegated to different
classes according to the quantity of means of production they own,
because this would create an infinite fragmentation of classes. A
similar objection can be raised to the use of exploitation as a
criterion of class. If all exploiters are included in one class and all
exploited in another, we fail to capture the subtleties of Marx's six-
class model of capitalism. If, on the other hand, class becomes a
matter of the degree of exploitation, the concept. once again, be-
comes too finely differentiated.
Market behavior is a more plausible criterion. The working class
is made up of those who sell their labor power, the capitalist class
by those who buy labor power; the petty bourgeoisie by those who
do neither. The credit market, similarly, gives rise to the classes of
lenders and borrowers of capital. and the pattern of land owner-
ship creates the classes of landowners, tenants, and independent
peasantry. The criterion, however, gives too much weight to actual
behavior and insufficient weight to the causes of the behavior. A
member of a rich family who takes a job as a factory worker to see
what life is like at the bottom does not thereby become a member
of the working class, nor does a self-proletarianized graduate stu-
dent. Although they sell their labor power, they are not forced to
do so. A worker is someone who sells his labor power because he
has to or, more generally, because this is the best way he can use
his productive endowments. The concept of class, to be useful in a
theory of social struggle, ought only to group together those who
are bound together, by necessity and a common fate. Hence, in
market economies with private ownership ofthe means of produc-
tion, a class consists of individuals who must engage in similar
market behavior if they want to make the best use of what they
have. Ownership of the means of production enters into this defi-
126
The Concept of Class
nition, not directly but as what detennines which market behavior
is optimal. Endowment-9enerated behavior becomes the criterion of
class.
The criterion also applies, more obviously (and trivially), to
nonmarket economies with individual ownership of the means of
production. Slaves and serfs work for others because, given their
lack of full property of their labor power, they cannot do better for
themselves. Slaveowners and lords are surplus extractors because,
given their ownership, in full or in part, of the labor power of
others, this is their best strategy. The distribution of endowments
generates the class structure in an immediate way. In market econ-
omies, the derivation is more indirect. One cannot predict, from
mere inspection of who owns what, who will end up in which
classes. A person who owns a little capital might, depending on
the endowments of other agents, find that he can best make use of
it as a worker, as a self-employed artisan, or as a small capitalist.
Economies with corporate ownership are more intractable. To
understand their class structure, we must go beyond Marx in one
important respect. Marx suggests that the ruling class in the Asiatic
mode of production and similar systems consisted of the govern-
ment officials who based their rule on exploitation of the peasant-
ry. It is implausible, however, to think of the bureaucracy as a
whole, from the emperor down to the doonnan of his dining
room, as one, unitary class. If the concept of class is to be of use in
understanding social conflict, it must allow us to distinguish sever-
al classes within the bureaucracy. Exploitation does not provide a
plausible dividing line. A subordinate bureaucrat would hardly be
able to tell whether he received goods in excess of his labor time
and, hence, would not know to which class he belonged. Class
would become an analytical construct, not part of social reality.
Power - relations of domination and subordination within a hier-
archical chain of command - is more plausible as a differentiating
criterion. One could distinguish, for example, among top manag-
ers, who only give orders; middle managers, who both receive and
give orders; and subordinates, who are only at the receiving end of
commands. Such relations are the stuff of social conflict; they are a
natural extension of Marx's concept of class.
The same proposal immediately carries over to modern cap-
127
Class Consciousness and Class Stru99le
italism, dominated by large, hierarchically organized corporations.
Given the objectives of Marx's theory, it would be absurd to make
all employees of the corporation, from the president down to the
unskilled worker, belong to the same c1ass.
6
Again, the giving and
receiving of commands seem to be the most plausible criterion for
draWing internal lines of class division within the corporate hier-
archy. The modern corporation rests on a triangular conflict of
interests among shareholders, managers, and workers that differs
in almost all important respects from the dichotomous conflict
between capitalists and workers that concerned Marx.
Once again, however, the proposed criterion is too behavioral.
We need to know by virtue of what assets some end up as top
managers, others as middle managers, and still others, the major-
ity, as simple subordinates. Skills probably count for much, as do
various forms of "cultural capital" acquired in the family. These
processes are still ill understood. The enormous salaries com-
manded by top executives also present a puzzle, beyond the gener-
al problems that skilled labor poses for Marxist theory. It is not
clear why an executive vice-president is worth ten times as much
to the firm as its chief engineer, even assuming that we knew why
the latter earns five times as much as an unskilled worker. These
problems point to the need for a Marxist theory of the firm that
takes proper account of career structures and hierarchical domina-
tion.
It follows from this analysis that the immediate relations be-
tween classes are of two kinds. On the one hand, there is transfer
of surplus from below; on the other, transfer of commands from
above. Note that transfer of surplus is not the same as exploitation.
Surplus is transferred from the capitalist tenant to the landowner,
but the latter does not exploit the former. They are both exploiters,
living off the labor of the workers they exploit. Similarly, there can
be transfer of surplus from one exploited agent to another, as
6 If high executives receive stocks in the corporation on top of their salary. and
thus become co-owners of it. the classical Marxist analysis remains to some
extent applicable. but not without strain. When property is allocated as an
incentive to perfonnance. to reduce the "principal-agent problem" that other-
wise plagues the large corporation. it can no longer be invoked as an indepen·
dent variable explaining class position.
128
Class Consciousness
when an indebted artisan extracts a surplus from a few hired
assistants and transfers it to his creditor while he himself remains,
on the balance, exploited. Class conflict is, typically, caused by
such immediate, face-to-face confrontations.
More remote relations may be more relevant. The assistants of
the artisan ought perhaps to direct their struggle against the usurer
who is exploiting their boss. The agricultural workers ought to see
that behind their immediate enemy, the capitalist tenant, is a more
formidable enemy, the landlord. Yet this is not the way the class
struggle usually works. If anything, the remote enemy is seen as a
potential alliance partner against the common opponent. This is
even more clearly seen in hierarchical chains of command. There
is a widespread tendency for the subjects in any bureaucratic soci-
ety to direct their anger against the intermediate levels in the hier-
archy and to absolve in advance the top level of any responsibility
for their ills. "If only the king knew!" Because the class struggle
often has this myopic character, it is perhaps less likely to bring
about far-reaching social change than Marx believed.
CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS
The concept of class, as defined, presupposes that there is interac-
tion between members of different classes, by transfer of surplus or
commands. It does not presuppose interaction among members of
any given class or a consciousness of common interests. The theo-
ry of class consciousness attempts to explain under which condi-
tions members of a class become aware that they have a common
situation and interests and, moreover, are able to organize in a
collective defense of those interests. Actually, the word "theory" is
too strong. Marx offered some comments on the emergence of
class consciousness among the English workers and the lack of it
among the French peasantry. He also argued, albeit very ambigu-
ously, that the capitalist state is an expression of capitalist class
consciousness. These observations provide triangulation points for
the construction of a more general theory of class consciousness,
but they do not by themselves amount to such a theory.
In The German Ideology Marx puts his finger on the central obsta-
cle to organized class action: the free-rider problem. "The attitude
129
Class Consciousness and Class Stru99le
of the bourgeois to the institutions of his regime is like that of the
Jew to the law; he evades them whenever it is possible to do so in
each individual case, but he wants everybody else to observe
them." Examples from Marx's writings include the regulation of
the length of the working day, laws allowing expropriation of
private property, and laws enforcing competition. He did not in
equally explicit terms state the parallel dilemma for the working
class, but it is obvious enough that strikes, trade union formation,
and revolution also are subject to free-rider problems. Explainin9
class consciousness amounts to explainin9 why members of a class choose
the cooperative strate9Y in their Prisoner's Dilemma.
Cooperation among class members can be studied in several
perspectives. First, we may inquire into the proximate, subjective
conditions for cooperation, that is, the information and the moti-
vation that will induce class members to participate in collective
action on behalf of their class. Next, we may search for the further,
social conditions under which the requisite subjective conditions
will be forthcoming. Or, finally, we may decide to short-circuit the
subjective stage altogether and attempt to establish direct connec-
tions between social conditions and the propensity to cooperation.
The first approach is that of the rational-choice theorist or the
social psychologist, the last that of most historians or sociologists.
The second represents an ideal synthesis, as difficult to achieve as it
is rewarding. Marx, by and large, limited himself to the third,
"black-box" approach. Although this may in some cases be an
appropriate response to the risk of premature reductionism, it can-
not in general claim superiority.
A first condition for concerted, collective action is that the mem-
bers of the class have a correct understanding of their situation and
their interest. The French peasantry around 1850, for instance,
was under the sway of idees napoleoniennes, a conception of their
interests that was adequate to the times of Napoleon I but no
longer to those of his nephew, Napoleon III. The small landed
property had corresponded to the interest of the peasantry when it
represented a liberation from feudal oppression. It no longer did so
when urban usurers had emerged as the new exploiters of the
peasantry. Objectively, the peasants' interest now lay in an al-
liance with the urban proletariat, whereas before they had found a
130
Class Consciousness
natural ally in the bourgeoisie. Subjectively, they were unable to
go beyond the ancient, outdated conception of their interest.
Marx was somewhat more optimistic with respect to the capaci-
ty of English workers to form an adequate conception of their
interests. Yet he was also frustrated by their lack of revolutionary
class consciousness, which in part he imputed to their lack of
understanding of their real interests. Around 1850, after the col-
lapse of the Chartist movement, he explained their confusion by
the fact that the workers were fighting a two-front war. Because
the capitalists did not themselves take political power but left its
exercise to the class of aristocratic landowners, the workers were
confused about the nature of their real enemy - Capital or Gov-
ernment? Struggling simultaneously against political oppression
and economic exploitation, and not understanding that the former
was only the extension of the latter, they had a very diffuse notion
of where their interest lay. Around 1870, the two-front war was
replaced by an argument from divide-and-conquer. Marx suggests
that had it not been for the presence of the Irish, the English
workers would have been more able to perceive their real interest
and their real enemy. Having someone below them to despise,
they were distracted from the main enemy above them.
Marx's version of both arguments was excessively functionalist
(or conspiratorial). He suggested that the presence of a govern-
ment separate from capital and of internal cleavages in the work-
ing class could be explained by the fact that they provided a light-
ning rod to attract the anger of the workers and distract it from
capital. The arguments can, however, be retained without appeal-
ing to this assumption. The second can be restated without any
reference to the interests of capital and solely in terms of working-
class psychology. The mental frustration and tension generated by
a state of subordination are eased by drawing the main dividing
line in society below rather than above oneself. In an echo of
Rousseau's "Quiconque est maitre ne peut etre libre," Marx writes
that "a people which subjugates another people forges its own
chains." The first argument is a special case of the more general
assertion that in a society with multiple, overlapping conflicts it
may be hard to discern the main or ultimate cause of oppression
(assuming, implausibly, that there is one ultimate cause that ex-
131
Class Consciousness and Class Struggle
plains all the others). Another special case is the salience of face-
to-face confrontations, as distinct from struggles against more re-
mote opponents.
Assuming that the class members have a correct understanding
of their interests as a class, what motivations are needed to gener-
ate collective action? Because Marx has little to offer by way of an
answer, we are forced to go beyond the texts and offer some
speculations based on recent work on collective action. On one
account, which seems especially appropriate to capitalist collective
action, cooperation is forthcoming because the members of a class
engage in continuous or repeated interaction. They cooperate out
of hope of reciprocation or fear of retaliation in later interactions.
On another, which seems more adequate to working-class collec-
tive action, cooperation reflects a transformation of individual psy-
chology so as to include feelings of solidarity, altruism, fairness,
and the like. A related, yet different account suggests that collec-
tive action ceases to become a Prisoner's Dilemma because mem-
bers cease to regard participation as costly: It becomes a benefit in
itself, over and above the public good it is intended to produce.
Finally, one ought not to exclude that collective action can occur
because members act irrationally. This, however, is an explanation
of last resort and should be invoked only when one can specify the
kind of irrationality that is at work.
To choose among such explanations, one would need to know a
great deal about the mental states of the individuals concerned,
more, indeed, than is usually possible to glean from the historical
record. Given the typical paucity of evidence, macrosociological
correlations, explaining successful collective action in terms of so-
cial characteristics, are more robust. Marx emphasizes two such
characteristics. On the one hand, the isolation or proximity of the
members with respect to one another is an important factor in
class consciousness. The impotence of the French peasantry, ac-
cording to Marx, was due to their geographical isolation from each
other and the lack of means of communication. Conversely, the
greater class consciousness of the English factory workers is due to
the fact that they are "disciplined, united, organized by the very
mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself." On the
other hand, although less centrally, Marx mentions high turnover
132
Class Consciousness
in class membership as an obstacle to class consciousness. Like
Tocqueville, Marx suggested that classes in America were in a state
of "constant flux," which prevented them from solidifying into
collective actors. Writing about Europe, he suggests that the small
middle class is politically weak because it is "undergoing a con-
stant process of decomposition and renewal."
There are other factors, less heavily stressed by Marx, that influ-
ence the probability of collective action. The standard of living, in
absolute and relative terms, is particularly important. The absolute
level shapes collective action in two, opposed ways. On the one
hand, poverty offers a strong inducement to collective action, be-
cause the very poor have "nothing to lose but their chains" (un-
less the ruling classes make it their business to ensure that they
face a fate worse than death if they fail). On the other hand,
however, poverty creates an obstacle to collective action, which
usually requires some resources. The very poorest workers may
have the strongest inducement to strike but are also less able to go
without the wage for a long time.
7
The net effect of these two
tendencies is, in general, indeterminate.
The standard of living can also be assessed in relative terms, by
comparison with that of other groups or with some expected level.
Since Tocqueville, the following two propositions have been wide-
ly accepted. First, collective action is more likely to be generated by
small inequalities than by large ones, because the latter are usually
seen as immutable, quasinatural facts of the society in which one is
living. Second, revolutions are more likely to occur when condi-
tions have begun to improve than when they are stably bad, be-
cause expectations about further improvement tend to outrun the
actual possibilities and thus to generate frustration.
The free-rider problems arising within the exploiting and domi-
nating classes will, according to Marx, be solved by the state. This
view will be discussed later. Whatever its plausibility as a theory of
the state, it is obviously incomplete as a theory of collective action.
For one thing, capitalists and other exploiting-dominating classes
7 Hence the slogan "Necessity is the mother of collective action" faces the same
difficulty as the related idea that "Necessity is the mother of invention." The
propositions could be tested by looking at the rate of union formation and of
technical change during different stages of the trade cycle.
133
Class Consciousness and Class Struggle
had problems of collective action before they achieved political
power. For another, when there are several such classes in a given
society, for example, landowners and capitalists, the state can at
most enforce collective action for one of them, often at the expense
of the others. For such nonstate solutions to collective action prob-
lems within the exploiting and dominating classes, we look in vain
to Marx for guidance. He does not, for example, have anything to
say about cartel formation, the capitalist analogue to trade union
formation.
CLASS STRUGGLE
The forms of class struggle are many and varied. They range from
hidden manipulation to overt conflict; from direct confrontation
between the two classes involved in a relation of exploitation or
dOmination to complex alliance formation involving three or more
classes. The interests of the parties may be implacably opposed or
in concord in certain respects. The arena of class struggle can be an
enterprise, a branch of the economy, or the political system; the
stakes can range from wage increases to the creation of a wholly
new set of relations of production. What makes a conflict into a
class struggle is, first, that the parties involved are classes and,
second, that the objects of the struggle are interests they have as
classes, not as, say, citizens or ethnic groups.
Marx has little to say about class struggle in precapitalist so-
cieties, excepting a few remarks on classical antiquity. He observes
that here the main form of class struggle was the conflict between
debtors and creditors or small and large landowners. He explicitly
says that the slaves took no part in the class struggle; rather, they
were the "passive pedestal" of the class struggle between different
groups of freemen. One can accept this view and yet argue that the
objective conflict of interests between slaves and their owners was
not without consequences. If there are few examples of slaves
engaging in collective action, it is because slaveowners took care to
reduce the likelihood of this happening by mixing slaves of differ-
ent nationalities and in other ways manipulating the conditions
under which slaves could become class-conscious.
Such preemptive class struggle is a very widespread phenomenon.
134
Class Stru99le
It includes, for instance, the deliberate choice of inferior tech-
nology if the best fonn would enhance the workers' class con-
sciousness (by facilitating their communication with each other)
or improve their bargaining leverage (by making them harder to
replace or by making the finn more vulnerable to strikes that
would let costly machinery lie idle). In contemporary capitalist
societies it frequently takes the fonn of offering wage increases up
to the level where the risk of trade union fonnation is eliminated
but below the level that a union would be able to get for its
members. In many societies class struggles have been preempted
by the ruling class manipulating the means of communication, on
the general principle of "divide and conquer." Sometimes these
strategies are more efficient than violent repression of attempts by
the exploited classes to organize themselves, because repression
can have the effect of unifying the opposition rather than destroy-
ing it.
Marx was mainly concerned with overt fonns of the class strug-
gle, opposing two or more organized classes to each other. His
analyses of mid-nineteenth-century class struggle in England,
France, and Gennany were, for the most part, based on the as-
sumption of a triangular class constellation with, in addition to
industrial capitalists and workers, a third force of landmyners,
financial capitalists, or government officials. Although Marx be-
lieved that the long-tenn outcome of the class struggle was shaped
by the conflict between capital and labor, the modalities of struggle
are strongly influenced by the presence of this third collective
actor.
To the extent that the struggle between labor and capital con-
cerns the very existence of the capitalist mode of production, they
have diametrically opposed interests. Although Marx expected the
class struggle to develop in this direction, the confrontation be-
tween capitalists and workers in his time had more immediate
objects. Taking the capitalist organization of production for
granted, workers demanded higher wages and better working con-
ditions - as they do today. In this framework, capitalists and
workers have some common interests. Although they have largely
opposed interests about the division of the social product, both
have an interest in increasing it. Hence, for instance, strikes and
135
Class Consciousness and Class Struggle
lockouts are double-edged weapons in the class struggle because
of the loss of production they may cause. To some extent they also
have overlapping interests about how the social pie is to be divid-
ed. Capitalists have an interest in restraining their short-term greed
and avoiding overexploitation of the workers; workers have an
interest in avoiding excessive wage claims, because future wage
increases depend on something being left over for capitalist profit
and reinvestment. Marx recognized these interdependencies of in-
terest, although in his work they took second place to an assertion
of conflict of interest.
Capitalists live off the surplus created by the workers. Marx
insisted, however, that they also force the creation of the surplus
they appropriate. In their entrepreneurial function, they are like
brokers who bring people of complementary skills together, there-
by making them more productive than they are in isolation. Al-
though they have no right to appropriate the surplus they cause to
be produced, it remains true that, in Marx's words, they "help
create what is to be deducted." By contrast, he argued, land-
owners, financial capitalists, or bureaucrats do not even have this
indirect productive function. They are nothing but parasites.
Hence, there is a conflict that opposes workers and industrial cap-
italists, on the one hand, to the classes who make no contribution
to the net social product, on the other. The two blocs are totally
opposed, with no common interests.
Hence, on purely economic grounds, we would expect an al-
liance between workers and capitalists against these unproductive
classes. This pattern of coalition formation was observed in the
struggle of English capitalists and workers for the repeal of the
Com Laws or in the early stages of the French and German revolu-
tions of 1848. Yet the capitalists soon find themselves in a dilem-
ma: Having won with the help of the workers, they risk defeat at
the hands of the workers. Referring to England, Marx writes that
the capitalists then "prefer to compromise with the vanishing op-
ponent rather than to strengthen the future enemy." In a near-
contemporary comment on France, he asks, rhetorically: "The
reduction of profit by finance, what is that compared with the
abolition of profit by the proletariat?" There are two distinct rea-
sons why the capitalist class might want to compromise with the
136
Class Stru99le
precapitalist ruling classes, even at some cost to its profit. First, by
combining their forces the exploiting classes can repress the ex-
ploited class more efficiently. This is the argument that Marx
stresses in his writings on France and Germany. Second, there is
the two-front-war argument: The capitalists can gain by blurring
the lines of class conflict, that is, by forcing the workers to divide
their energy between Capital and Government. This is the main
argument cited in the writings on English politics.
This analysis rests on a divergence between the economic and
the political interests of the capitalist class. This distinction is a
special case of a more general one, between its short-term and
long-tenn economic interests. The main long-term interest of cap-
ital is its long-term survival. which may depend on having a state
whose decisions do not in each and every case coincide with the
short-term economic interest of capital.
8
Recall here that the eco-
nomic interests of the class can themselves diverge from the eco-
nomic interests of each individual capitalist. These different ways
of understanding the interest of capital add to the ambiguity and
complexity of alliance formation.
Marx believed that the initial alliance between the productive
classes against the unproductive ones was precarious, soon to be
overturned by an alliance between the exploiting classes against
the exploited one. Yet the coalition of the exploiters is only a
holding operation. It can delay the historical trend, not reverse it.
The inherent propensity of capitalism to generate exploitation,
alienation, and various internal contradictions will ultimately sap
its forces and lead to its abolition. When mechanisms immanent to
capitalist production lead to a fall in the rate of profit, the capitalist
class will have an overriding economic incentive to restore it by
getting rid of the precapitalist parasites - but an equally strong
political incentive to retain them. They are damned if they do but
8 In some cases the distinction between short-term and long-term economic in-
terests has nothing to do with politics. Thus it may be in the short-term collective
interest or the capitalist class to form cartels against foreign consumers. but its
long-term viability may depend on vigorous competition and free trade. because
otherwise foreign countries may be encouraged by the high canel prices to
develop their own industry. Here the interests of each individual capitalist coin-
cide with the long-term interests of the class as a whole while diverging from the
short-tenn collective interests.
137
Class Consciousness and Class Struggle
equally damned if they don't. Marx summarizes their dilemma
with a phrase from Juvenal: "Et propter vitam vivendi perdere
causas" (for the sake of life to sacrifice life's only end).
In its main outlines, this view of history is badly, and irrepara-
bly, flawed. Marx offers no plausible story about how capitalism is
doomed to destroy itself. Yet in small- and medium-sized details
his theory of the class struggle in capitalism was an outstanding
achievement. It would be wrong to say that it is a model of the
genre, given the numerous ways in which the overall speculative
views impinge on and distort the specific analyses. (This is particu-
larly true of his analysis of the political dimension of the class
struggle, to be discussed later.) Also, Marx's writings on the class
struggle give us more than any careful model could ever do. They
suggest numerous avenues of research, not all of them consistent
with each other, yet each of them valuable and fruitful in some
particular contexts. As always when reading Marx, one is struck
by admiration for the brilliance of his intellect and dumbfounded
by his lack of concern for consistency.
In Marx's vision of social change, class interests and class strug-
gle were predominant. It may well be that in the mid-nineteenth
century this view came closer to being true than ever before or
since. Yet even at his time other causes and motivations, not im-
mediately reducible to class interests, were important. In particu-
lar, what came to be known as "the national question" has been a
stumbling block for Marxism since its inception. Workers and cap-
italists of oppressed countries rally around the cause of national
liberation in a way that is hard to reconcile with the Marxist tenet
that class solidarity overrides all other interests. Today, the "re-
gional question" within capitalist countries poses a similar prob-
lem, as does the persistent and pervasive importance of racial,
religious, and linguistic conflicts. One simply cannot defend the
traditional Marxist view, that these nonclass interest groups will
lose in importance as classes increasingly acquire class con-
sciousness and organization.
Responding to this objection, Marxists have attempted to con-
struct secondary lines of defense. One counterargument is that the
nonclass interest groups owe their existence to class interests. Eth-
nic, cultural, or religious cleavages within the working class are
138
Bibliography
explained by the fact that, by weakening the workers, they also
benefit capitalist class interests. This functionalist account fails
through a confusion of two phenomena classically distinguished
by Georg Simmel in his sociology of conflict. On the one hand,
there is divide et impera, in which the beneficiary actively creates
and foments the conflict and distrust by which he maintains his
rule. On the other hand, there is tertius gaudens, in which a third
party benefits from a conflict he has not been instrumental in
creating. Marx refers to the latter when he remarks that the work-
ers' struggle for the Ten Hours Bill was favored by the conflict
between industrialists and landowners, citing the English proverb
that "When thieves fall out, honest men come into their own." It
would be palpably absurd to assert that this conflict was en-
gineered by the workers for their own purposes, yet a similar
absurdity is committed by those who find capitalist intentions or
benefits at work behind every conflict that opposes workers of
different race or creed.
Another counterargument relies on a long historical perspective.
It asserts that nonclass collective action may be important in the
internal development of each mode of production but that class
struggle is the decisive factor in the transition from one mode of
production to another. New, optimal relations of production come
about when and because their promotion coincides with the in-
terest of a rising class, which is able, by virtue of this coincidence,
to win out in the class struggle. The defect of this view is, again, its
reliance on unsupported teleological thinking. No class gains the
upper hand simply by being on the winning side of history. The
conclusion seems inescapable that class struggle, though always
an important part of social conflict and sometimes the most impor-
tant part, is not always and everywhere its dominant form.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Introduction. The relation between individual and collective betterment
has been brilliantly explored by three French writers: Alexis de Toc-
queville in classical works on American democracy and the French Revo-
lution; Paul Veyne in his book on authority relations in classical antiquity,
Le Pain et Ie Cirque (Editions du Seuil, 1976); and Raymond Boudon in
The Unintended Consequences of Social Action (St. Martin's Press, 1979).
139
Class Consciousness and Class Struggle
The concept 0/ class. The definition proposed here owes much to John
Roemer, A General Theory o/Exploitation and Class (Harvard University Press,
1982), and to G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford University
Press, 1978), pp. 70 ff. The importance of power for class formation in
modem capitalist economies is stressed by Ralf Dahrendorf, Class and Class
Conflict in Industrial Society (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957). An en-
cyclopedic survey of Marx's writings on class is Hal Draper, Karl Marx's
Theory of Revolution, vol. 2, The Politics 0/ Social Classes (Monthly Review
Press, 1978). A good account of social stratification theory is P. M. Blau and
o. D. Duncan, The American Occupational Structure (Wiley, 1967).
Class consciousness. An outstanding historical study of class con-
sciousness is E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
(Penguin, 1968). More dogmatic but also useful is John Foster, Class
Struggle and the Industrial Revolution (Methuen, 1974). The relation be-
tween class consciousness and the collective action problem is discussed
in Mancur Olson's classic book, The Logic of Collective Action (Harvard
University Press, 1965). An application to capitalist collective action is
John R. Bowman, "The logic of capitalist collective action," Social Science
Information 21 (1982): 571-604. An application to collective action
among the peasantry is Samuel Popkin, The Rational Peasant (University of
California Press, 1979). There are not, to my knowledge, any good studies
of working-class collective action in this perspective.
Class struggle. In addition to Thompson's book, the outstanding Marxist
account of class struggle in history is G. E. M. de Ste. Croix, The Class
Stru99le in the Ancient Greek World (Duckworth, 1981). It includes, among
other things, valuable discussions of preemptive class struggle, for which
one may also consult R. B. Freeman and J. L. Medoff, What Do Unions Do?
(Basic Books, 1984). A good study of class struggle in feudalism is Rodney
Hilton, Bond Men Made Free (Methuen, 1973). Marx's accounts of social
conflict in England, France, and Germany around 1850 may be usefully
compared with, respectively, Harold Perkin, The Origins of Modern English
Society, 1780-1880 (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), R. Remond, Les
Droites en France (Aubier, 1982), and T. S. Hamerow, Restoration, Revolu-
tion, Reaction: Economics and Politics in Germany, 1815-1871 (Princeton
University Press, 1966). The objection to Marxist class theory discussed
toward the end has been most forcefully put by Frank Parkin, Marxism and
Class Theory (Tavistock, 1979).
140
8
MARX'S THEORY OF POLITICS
INTRODUCTION
T
HERE are two perspectives on politics in Marx's writings. On
the one hand, politics is part of the superstructure and hence of
the forces that oppose social change. The political system stabilizes
the dominant economic relations. On the other hand, politics is a
medium for revolution and hence for social change. New relations
of production are ushered in by political struggles. To see the
relation between the two functions of politics, they must be seen in
the wider context of historical materialism. This theory affirms that
new relations of production emerge when and because the exist-
ing ones cease to be optimal for the further development of the
productive forces: This is the ultimate explanation of a change in
the economic relations. In this transition, political struggle has no
independent causal force. It acts as a midwife, bringing about what
is doomed to come about sooner or later.
When the new relations have come about, the political move-
ment that brought them into being is solidified into a political
system that contributes to keeping them in place. When per-
forming ihis stabilizing function, politics is initially progressive but
later becomes reactionary. It is progressive as long as the relations
of production remain optimal for the development of the produc-
tive forces; it becomes reactionary when new, superior relations
appear at the horizon. In the latter stage, the political system can
no longer be explained by its ability to stabilize economic relations,
which themselves are further explained by their ability to promote
the productive forces at an optimal rate. In its reactionary stage,
the political system becomes an independent social force. It now
keeps alive what formerly kept it alive, namely, a system of prop-
141
Marx's Theory of Politics
erty rights that no longer can rest on its progressive economic
function. It can only, however, give them a stay of execution. The
political movement corresponding to the new relations of produc-
tion will, inevitably, win out.
These general propositions are supposed to apply to all societies,
from the Asiatic mode of production through slavery, serfdom,
capitalism, up to communism. (There is one difference: The politi-
cal movement that leads up to communism does not, after its
victory, solidify into a new political system but rather proceeds to
the dismantling of politics.) Actually, Marx and later Marxists
have applied them to a much more limited set of problems: the rise
and fall of capitalism. At the center of Marx's political writings is
the capitalist state in its stabilizing function. He believed that he
wrote at a time when the capitalist relations of production, from
optimal, were turning suboptimal. Correspondingly, the capitalist
state was in the process of going from its progressive to its reac-
tionary stage. This is the overriding concern of his political theory:
How does the state maintain and support capitalist relations of
production in the face of the rise of communism as a potentially
superior system?
He also made numerous brief observations on the political pro-
cesses at both sides of capitalism: the political transition from
feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to communism.
Though often suggestive, these are much less coherent than his
theory of the capitalist state. They are also much less plausible,
because they depend too heavily on the teleological framework of
his theory of history. Marx never offers anything remotely resem-
bling an argument for his view that individuals or classes will
engage in political struggle for the sake of relations of production
that will enable the productive forces to develop at an optimal rate.
The extent to which he neglected microfoundations, and instead
simply put his faith in history, is brought out in his irritation with
the petty-minded Gennan burghers during the 1848 movement,
when they refused, contrary to the general movement of history,
to enter into an alliance with the working class. Had he been more
willing to entertain the idea that they were rational political actors
instead of puppets of their historical destiny, he would have un-
derstood that if he could see that this alliance would ultimately
142
The Capitalist State
benefit the workers in their struggle against capitalism the bur-
ghers could also see what lay in store for them if they accepted it.
THE CAPITALIST STATE
Marx had not one but two or three theories of the capitalist state.
Prior to 1848 he held a purely instrumental theory, usually
thought of as the Marxist theory of the state, according to which it
is "nothing but" a tool for the common interests of the bour-
geoisie. After 1848, when this view became increasingly implausi-
ble, he substituted for it an "abdication theory," to the effect that
capitalists abstain from political power because they find their
interests better served this way. Finally, if one removes from the
second theory all that is sheer stipulation or unsubstantiated asser-
tion, a more plausible account emerges. This is the view that the
state is an independent actor in the social arena and that the
interests of the capitalist class serve as constraints rather than goals
for its actions.
In The Communist Manifesto Marx tells us that "the executive of
the modem State is but a committee for managing the common
affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." In other pre-l 848 writings he is
somewhat more careful. He recognizes that in most countries the
state is not yet fully capitalist in nature but adds that it must
inevitably become so if economic progress is to continue. "Bour-
geois industry has reached a certain level when it must either win
an appropriate political system or perish"; by "appropriate" he
meant a system in which the bourgeoisie directly assumes the
political power. It was when Marx had to give up this basic prem-
ise that he developed the abdication theory of the state.
The instrumental theory has two sides to it. On the one hand,
the state solves the collective action problems of the bourgeoisie;
on the other hand, it blocks the cooperative solution to the similar
problems faced by the workers. Of these, the first task is more
fundamental and actually includes the second, because an unor-
ganized working class is a public good for the capitalists. In one
sense Marx stands in the Hobbesian tradition that views the state
as a means for enforcing cooperative behavior in a Prisoner's Di-
lemma. The crucial difference is that Hobbes thought of the rele-
vant Prisoner's Dilemma as one involving the war of all against all,
143
Marx's Theory of Politics
whereas Marx restricted it to the internal war among members of
the economically dominant class. In the only place where Marx
refers to the function of the state in providing genuinely public
goods, he adds that with the development of capitalism these will
increasingly be provided by private industry. It is a puzzle why he
should think that, say, basic research or defense against external
enemies could profitably be undertaken by private firms; most
probably he did not have a clear understanding of the problem.
Among the tasks of the capitalist state, Marx cites expropriation
of private property when it is in the interest of the capitalist class as
a whole; legal regulation of the length of the working day; and
enforcement of competition. Of these, the last two are especially
interesting. It is sometimes argued that the task of the state, rather
than enforcing competition, is to save firms from the ravages of
competition. If firms in an industry are unable to form a cartel,
because of the free-rider problem involved, the state can force
them to act in their collective interest. There have been quite a few
instances of such forced cartelization in the history of capitalism,
especially during the Great Depression. Marx argued that the state
had to take the long view. In the long run, the viability and hence
the legitimacy of capitalism depend upon the spur of competition.
Similarly, he argued that the Ten Hours Bill of 1848 was intro-
duced to protect capitalists against their short-term greed. Byover-
exploiting the workers, for the purpose of short-term profits, they
were threatening the physical reproduction and survival of the
class that formed the very condition for profit.
This argument presents a puzzle. If the state can act in the collec-
tive, long-term interests ofthe capitalist class, will it not also antic-
ipate and prevent the communist revolution? Would not a state
that does not say "Apres nous Ie deluge" try to preempt any revo-
lutionary social movement by reformist concessions? Marx did not
confront this issue, except by a fiat to the effect that it would not
arise, but on his behalf one might offer the following considera-
tions. The natural response of ruling classes is to meet social unrest
by repression rather than preemption. If it turns out that repres-
sion does not work, or has the very opposite effect of what was
intended by unifying the forces it was supposed to crush, the rulers
144
The Capitalist State
may turn to preemptive concessions as a fall-back strategy. In that
case they will find, however, that preemption is a difficult tech-
nique to deploy. To be effective, it must be used before the demand
for concessions has even arisen, because otherwise it will be taken
as a sign of weakness and provoke still further demands. It remains
true, nevertheless, that both repression and preemption sometimes
do work. The principle that would guide a rational ruling class is
either to give no concessions or to give more than is demanded.
Events in Europe between 1848 and 1852 showed that the
bourgeoisie, far from reaching out toward political power, turned
away from it. The English capitalists dismantled the successful
Anti-Corn Law League, instead of using it as a stepping-stone to
power. Having defeated the landowners over this particular issue,
they showed no interest in dethroning them from power generally,
to Marx's frustration and puzzlement. In France and Germany the
revolutionary movement of 1848-9 was not the uninterrupted
march forward of the bourgeoisie that Marx had predicted. In-
stead, it took the form "One step forward, two steps backward."
The final outcome of the bourgeois struggle against feudal, abso-
lutist, or bureaucratic regimes was not their dissolution but their
further entrenchment. To remain consistent with his general theo-
ry of history, Marx had to argue that these noncapitalist regimes
could ultimately be explained by the interests of the capitalist class.
This argument was provided by what I have called the abdica-
tion theory of the capitalist state, formulated by Marx in writings
on French and English politics around 1852. ("Abdication" is
used here in a somewhat extended sense, which includes abstain-
ing from taking the power that is within one's reach as well as
giving up the power that one has.) There are three steps in the
argument. First, like several other writers, Marx argued that at this
particular juncture in history the bourgeoisie benefited from hav-
ing a state that was not the immediate extension of their interest.
Next, unlike these other writers, he claimed that the existence of
this noncapitalist state could actually be explained by these bene-
fits. As usual, Marx had difficulties in accepting the idea that there
can be accidental, nonexplanatory benefits in social life. Finally,
he argued that, because the presence of a noncapitalist state could
145
Marx's Theory of Politics
be explained by its value to the capitalist class, its autonomy was
only an apparent one. This step is also questionable, because it
neglects important strategic elements of the situation.
Many writers have been struck by the apparent paradox that
England, the foremost capitalist country in the nineteenth century,
was governed by a resolutely aristocratic elite, whose economic
basis was ownership of land rather than capital. In earlier history,
cumulation of economic and political superiority had almost in-
variably been the rule. The bourgeoisie was the first property-
owning class that was not also the g ~ v e r n i n g class. The most natu-
ral explanation of this fact, at least to a non-Marxist, is that the
aristocracy had a traditional monopoly on government that was
not easily broken. In the words of S. M. Lipset, the aristocracy
"continued to maintain its control over the governmental ma-
chinery because it remained the highest status group in society."
The alternative explanation, favored by Marx, is that the bour-
geoisie shied away from power because it was not in their interest
to take it.
Various writers have argued that the English bourgeoisie bene-
fited from having a noncapitalist government. An editorial in the
Economist from 1862, possibly written by Walter Bagehot, argued
that "not only for the interest of the country at large, but especially
for the interest of its commerce, it is in the highest degree desirable
that the Government should stand high above the influence of
commercial interest." The implication seems to be that a purely
"commercial" or capitalist government would be too myopic or
too greedy on behalf of capital. thus undermining its long-term
interest. In a related argument Joseph Schumpeter claimed that
the bourgeoisie "needs a master," not because they are too greedy
but because they are too incompetent, "unable not only to lead
the nation but even to take care of their particular class interests."
In a quite different vein the English social historian G. D. H. Cole
remarks that the English bourgeoisie "were too occupied with
their own affairs to wish to take the exercise of political authority
directly into their own hands."
The benefit cited by Marx was quite different. He argued that,
were the capitalists to take political power, the two enemies of the
working class - Capital and Government - would fuse into one,
146
The Capitalist State
creating an explosive social situation. As long as the workers had
to fight a two-front war, against economic exploitation and politi-
cal oppression, their combativity and class consciousness would
lack a clear focus. Recognizing this, the English bourgeoisie
cleverly stayed away from power. Marx applied the same analysis
to France. The revolution of 1848 led to the formation of the
Second Republic and brought the bourgeoisie into political power.
Yet they soon recognized that the July Monarchy (1830-48) had
been a better arrangement from their point of view, "since they
must now confront the subjugated classes and contend against
them without mediation, without the concealment afforded by the
crown." Hence, there was a need for a new blurring of the class
lines, providentially ensured by Louis Napoleon. Marx interpreted
Bonaparte's coup d'etat of December 1851 as the abdication from
power of the French bourgeoisie, just as he saw the dismantling of
the Anti-Corn Law League as a deliberate stepping back from
power by the English capitalists.
Marx, then, wanted to explain the presence of a noncapitalist
state by the interests of the capitalist class. The explanation is not
supported by the historical record. There is no evidence to suggest
that the capitalists, individually or as a class, were motivated by
such considerations. In the absence of subjective intentions, the
objective benefits do not in themselves provide an explanation.
Nor is it clear that the benefits cited by the Economist or by Schum-
peter provide an explanation for the political passivity of the En-
glish bourgeoisie. A simpler explanation is provided by the logic of
collective action. The free-rider problem ensures that capitalists
will keep out of politics, unless intolerably provoked by state mea-
sures that go strongly against their interests. This fits in with Cole's
argument: Although all capitalists would make more money if
they all made some political effort, each individual capitalist
would rather stay in business. It may then well be true that what
capitalists do out of individual self-interest also, by a happy coinci-
dence, benefits their class as a whole, but this fact is no part of the
explanation of why they do it.
A variant of the argument can be applied to the French case,
where the capitalists first had power and then lost it. Marx often
suggests that the French bourgeoisie was weakened by internal
147
Marx's Theory of Politics
dissensions among its several fractions and that this is what al-
lowed Louis Bonaparte to take power. The observation suggests
that the French bourgeoisie had not overcome their free-rider
problems, that is, that they were not yet a stable collective actor.
Hence they had little resistance to offer to the coup d'etat. This fact,
combined with the (alleged) benefits they derived from having a
noncapitalist state, could be seen as justifying the view that they
deliberately opted for the latter and abdicated from their own rule.
To see that the view is not justified, consider an analogy. A
fugitive from justice may allow himself to be captured out of sheer
exhaustion. It may tum out, moreover, that he does better for
himself in prison than he would have done had he remained at
liberty. These two facts, dearly, do not entitle us to say that he
abdicated from liberty out of long-term self-interest or that the
explanation of his being captured lies in the benefits he derived
from being in prison. Writing about Germany, Marx does actually
refer to the "Babylonian captivity" of the bourgeoisie in the dec-
ade following the 1849 counterrevolution, claiming that their lack
of political power made them into the effective economic power in
the land. In this case, however, he refrained from suggesting that
their captivity was explained by those economic benefits.
Although there is little evidence for the view that capitalists
abstained from power because they saw that this best served their
interests, there could well be some truth in it. It could be that the
lack of political ambitions on the part of individual capitalists was
reinforced by the perception that even were they to overcome their
free-rider problem they might not be well served by doing so.
Evidence about individual motivations for abstaining from action
is, by the nature of the case, hard to come by. Let us explore,
therefore, the possibility that the benefits cited by the Economist,
Schumpeter, and Marx did in fact enter into the explanation for
the capitalist abstention from power. Marx claimed that if the
presence of a noncapitalist state could be explained by such bene-
fits it would prove that the state was "really" or ultimately a
capitalist one. I shall argue against this view.
Marx held a narrow, prestrategic conception of power that pre-
vented him from recognizing that the states he observed had au-
148
The Capitalist State
tonomy in a real sense and not only as a fief from the capitalist
class. To see this, observe first that there are two ways in which
group interests can shape state policies: by serving as the goal
those policies try to promote, or by serving as a constraint on
them. On first glance, it is tempting to argue that if the choice
between the feasible political alternatives is always made accord-
ing to the interest of one group, then it has all power concentrated
in its hands. On reflection, however, it is clear that power - real, as
opposed to formal - must also include the ability to define the set
of alternatives, to set constraints on what is feasible. The following
scenario is intended to bring out the relations between these two
ways of wielding power. It is constructed so as to apply to nine-
teenth-century European politics, as a strategic game between
Capital and Government with the working class as an important
background variable. In modified form, it could also apply to as-
pects of twentieth-century politics.
There are two agents: A (Capital) and B (Government), initially
facing a given number of alternatives. B has the formal power to
choose among the feasible alternatives; A may have the power to
exclude some of the alternatives from being considered. We as-
sume that in A's judgment some alternatives are very bad, to be
avoided at all costs. Among those remaining, some are judged
better than others, but none is outstandingly superior. If the bad
alternatives can somehow be excluded from the feasible set, it
might not matter too much which of the remaining ones is chosen
by B. It may not even be necessary for A to take any steps to
exclude the inferior alternatives. B, acting on the "law of antici-
pated reactions," may abstain from choosing any of these, know-
ing that if he does A has the power and the motive to dethrone
him. Moreover, to the extent that what is bad for A is also bad for
B, perhaps because B's affluence depends on that of A, B might not
want to choose an inferior alternative even if he could get away
with it. On the other hand, A might actually welcome the fact that
B does not choose the alternative top-ranked by A - for example, if
A does not want to be seen having power or if he deplores his own
tendency to prefer short-term over long-term gains. Or, if he does
not welcome it, he might at least tolerate it as the lesser evil,
149
Marx's Theory of Politics
compared to the costs involved in taking the formal power (as
distinct from the costs involved in having it). In either case B would
be invested with some autonomous power of decision, although
its substance might be questioned. Marx would say that the auton-
omy is only apparent, because ultimately it is granted by A. B has
autonomy as a fief.
Consider, however, the same situation from B's perspective. He
will correctly perceive his power as deriving from the cost to A of
having or taking it. To be sure, B's power is limited by the fact that
there are certain bounds that he cannot transgress without pro-
voking A into taking power for himself, perhaps also by the need
to avoid killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. But conversely,
A's real influence is limited by his desire not to assume formal,
political power unless provoked. Both actors, in fact, have power,
of an equally substantive character. How much power they have
depends on the further, specific features of the situation, as may be
seen by comparing cases A and B in Figure 1. (Needless to say, the
following argument is extremely stylized; it is intended to be sug-
gestive, not demonstrative.)
Each curve shows the amount of tax revenue to the state as a
function of the tax rate. If the tax rate is 0, there is no tax income;
if the tax rate is 100, no taxable activity will be forthcoming, and
again there is no tax revenue. Somewhere in between there must
be a tax rate, t
max
, that maximizes government income. Let us
assume, for simplicity, that this is the only interest of the govern-
Tax rate
A
0% tmax
Tax rate
8
100%
Figure 1. Two degrees of the structural dependence of the state on
capital.
150
The Capitalist State
ment: to raise as much tax revenue as possible.
9
The interest of the
capitalist class is, to simplify again, that the tax rate be as close to 0
as possible. 10 Depending on various economic factors, as well as
on the form of tax collection, the optimal tax rate may be high, as
in case A, or low, as in case B. In the former case, the government
has substantial freedom to act against the interests of the capitalist
class, 1 1 whereas in the latter it is constrained to track very closely
what is optimal policy from the capitalist point of view. It is a
purely empirical question whether, in any given case, something
like case A or something like case B obtains.
We have seen some of the reasons why A might not want
power. One is that A might know that if in power his decisions will
be motivated by short-term gain to himself and that he wants to
prevent this by letting the power remain safely outside his reach.
From the point of view of A's long-term interest, it may be better to
have the decisions taken in accordance with B's interest, although
not, of course, as good as if B would take them to promote A's
long-term interest. Another reason could be the presence of a third
actor, C (Labor), who is already opposed to A and who also tends
to oppose whoever has the formal power of decision. For A it
might then be better to leave the formal power with B, so that
some of Cs attention and energy should be directed toward Band
diverted from A. From this perspective, A might positively desire
that B should not consistently decide in accordance with A's long-
term interest, because otherwise C might perceive that the distinc-
tion between A and B is quite spurious.
Finally, A has reasons for not wanting to take power, as distinct
from his reasons for not having it. To go into politics is like a costly
investment that bears fruit only after some time while requiring
outlays in the present. If one's interests are reasonably well re-
spected in the present, the prospect of a future in which they might
9 The government may also have an interest in a high growth rate for the econo-
my, for instance if it believes that economic growth is necessary to stave off
popular unrest.
10 The capitalist class may have a collective interest in some taxation, for the
provision of public goods.
II Assuming that the capitalist class is unable or unwilling to take power for itself
- i.e., that there is no political constraint operating.
151
Marx's Theory of Politics
be even better respected need not be very attractive, considering
the costs of transition. Myopia - a high evaluation of present as
opposed to future income - might prevent A from wanting to take
power, just as his knowledge of his own tendency to act myo-
pically might prevent him from wanting to have it. These facts also
create an incentive for B to make the transition costs as high as
possible and to ensure that A's interest is just sufficiently respected
to make them an effective deterrent.
In more concrete language, the state has an interest in maximiz-
ing tax revenue, the bourgeoisie in maximizing profits. How the
state further uses its revenues does not concern us here. The sub-
stantive goals of the state can range from enriching the bureau-
cracy to promoting cultural expansion, imperialism, or social wel-
fare. The fact that such activities are pursued by the state operating
in a capitalist society does not prove that they are "really" in the
interest of capital. Even if it is in the interest of capital to have a
state with sufficient autonomy to pursue some such goals, the spe-
cific goals being pursued need not reflect that interest.
We saw above that if we consider only the economic constraint
that the state faces - the need to keep alive the goose that lays the
golden eggs - the government may have wide-ranging freedom to
impose its interests on the capitalist class. These are not, however,
the only relevant considerations. The goose need not just be kept
alive; it should be healthy and thriving. The state has an interest in
future tax revenue, not just in current income from taxation. If it
maximizes income from taxes in the short run, there will be less
left over for capitalist profit investment, and the creation of future
taxable income. The state as well as the capitalist class can be the
victim of myopia. There is, furthennore, a political constraint. If
the state imposes a very high tax rate, which is optimal from the
point of view of tax revenue, the capitalists might not sit still and
take it. They have the resources and the motivation to overthrow
the government if their interests are not sufficiently respected.
Although the presence of a potentially dangerous working class
may make them pull their punches for a while, they will not do so
indefinitely. Knowing this, a rational government might not .want
to impose the tax rate that maximizes tax revenue. The binding
constraint may be the political rather than the economic one. Fear
152
Politics in the Transition to Capitalism
for loss of power in the short run may accomplish what fear for
loss of income in the long run does not.
Clearly. Marx underestimated the complexity ofthe situation he
was discussing. The view that the English. French. and German
governments had power simply as a fief from capital cannot be
upheld. The basic flaw in Marx's analysis derives from a limited
view of what constitutes a political resource. On his conception.
power grows out of the end of a gun - or. more generally. out of
money and manpower. Yet the power base of a political actor can
also be his place in a web of strategic relationships. The capitalists'
fear of the working class. for instance. gives a lever to the aristo-
cratic government that has little to do with the physical resources
it actually has at its disposal. Also. incumbent officeholders have
an edge on their rivals that. again, does not derive from any pre-
political power base. Related phenomena in other domains are the
general advantage of the defense over the offense in military mat-
ters and the disproportionate power that may accrue to a political
party that happens to be in a pivotal position between the two
major political blocs.
Marx argued that the presence of an autonomous. noncapitalist
state could be explained by the structure of capitalist class in-
terests. It is not clear that he was right. It is at least as plausible to
explain the political abstention or abdication of the capitalists in
terms of their individual interests. Even were he right, however. it
does not follow that the autonomous policy decisions of the state
can also be explained by these interests or that the autonomy was
an illusory one. A state that can consistently impose policies very
different from what capitalists would prefer and promote interests
very different from theirs is a paradigm of autonomy. It does not
become less so by the fact that the capitalist class may prefer this
state over any feasible alternative.
POLITICS IN THE TRANSITION TO CAPITALISM
Marx never wrote extensively about precapitalist politics. His
views on the absolutist state and on the classical bourgeois revolu-
tions must be reconstructed from a large number of brief texts.
scattered around in his writings. The conception that emerges is
153
Marx's Theory of Politics
surprisingly un-Marxist, in the sense that politics appears as any-
thing but derivative. The decisive force in the shaping of modern
history was not capitalism but the strong nation-states that
emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For them,
"plenty" was a means to "power" and subservient to power. The
bourgeois revolutions of 1648 and 1789 brought the capitalists
toward power but not all the way to power. Their rise was ar-
rested, for the reasons set out above, and the state once again
became a dominant, independent actor.
Unlike some recent Marxist historians, Marx did not argue that
absolute monarchy was the political superstructure over feudal-
ism. Perry Anderson writes, for example, that it was a "feudal
monarchy" whose seeming "distance from the class from which it
was recruited and whose interests it served" was in fact "the con-
dition for its efficacy as a state." This amounts to saying that abso-
lute monarchy was for the feudal aristocracy what in Marx's view
the Bonapartist state was for the bourgeoisie - a tool, but at one
remove. Marx did not, however, apply his theory of indirect class
representation to the absolutist state. He argued that absolute
monarchy was a competitor to the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie,
not a tool, however indirectly, of either. In The German Ideology he
refers to the period of absolutism as one in which "royal power,
aristocracy and bourgeoisie are contending for domination and
where, therefore, domination is shared." Elsewhere in the same
work he suggests that the winner in this contest for the power was
the state, at least in the early modern period. By mediating be-
tween the classes and playing them out against each other, the
state could prevent either from getting the upper hand.
In The German Ideology Marx also asserts, without much argu-
ment, that the independence of the absolutist state was transitory
and illUSOry. In later writings this view is spelled out in a more
interesting way. Here he suggests that the independence of the
state is self-defeating, because it cannot promote its interest with-
out also strengthening one of its rivals, the bourgeoisie. The state
does not stand in the same relation to the bourgeoisie as it does to
the feudal nobility. The state and the nobility struggle over the
division of a given surplus, created by the exploited peasantry. The
154
Politics in the Transition to Capitalism
state can gain only by reducing the power of the nobility. By
contrast, the state will hurt its own economic interests if it inter-
feres too much with the bourgeoisie, which is creating the "plen-
ty" that the state needs to promote its "power." Up to a point the
state will, out of its self-interest, further the interests of the bour-
geoisie. By promoting the mobility of capital, labor, and goods and
by creating a unified system of money, weights, and measures, the
state allows the bourgeoisie to fill its own coffers as well as those of
the state. The creation of competition and of a national market was
not the quasiautomatic effect of foreign trade, as Marx suggests
elsewhere. It required very deliberate state intervention against the
numerous feudal barriers to mobility. Unlike the state in the Asiat-
ic mode of production, the absolutist state actively reshapes the
pattern of economic activities. Where it does not, as in Spain,
Marx suggests that it is in fact to be ranged with Asiatic rather than
European forms of government.
Beyond a certain point, this dependence on the bourgeoisie cre-
ates a dilemma for the state. If the state continues to encourage
trade and industry, it will create a formidable internal rival. If it
tries to hamper the bourgeoisie, it will reduce the economic and
hence the military strength of the country, thereby laying it open
to foreign rivals. (Marx does not actually make the last argument.
The international dimension of absolutist policies is a major lacuna
in his writings on the topic.) It would look, therefore, as ifthe state
is in a fix: damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. What is
strength with respect to the internal enemy is weakness with re-
spect to the external, and vice versa. A balance may be found, but
not easily. In particular, the attempts by many absolutist rulers to
encourage industrialization without a general modernization of
society have not been successful. Usually, they have got the worst
of both worlds, not, as they hoped, the best of both. The equi-
librium can be stabilized only by the emergence of an enemy of the
internal enemy - by the rise of the working class that drives the
bourgeoisie to ally itself with its former opponent against the new
one.
What is the role, in this general picture, of the classical bour-
geois revolutions? Almost all Marx has to say about the English
155
Marx's Theory of Politics
revolution of 1640-88 is contained in a book review of Guizot's
Discours sur I'Histoire de fa Revolution d'Angleterre, which also offers
a few comparisons with the French revolution of 1789. His nu-
merous remarks on the French revolution are all very brief, except
for a slightly more extended discussion in The Holy Family. Al-
though the main characters and events of the French revolution
were part of his mental universe and shaped the categories
through which he interpreted current events, he never subjected it
to a systematic analysis.
The two classical bourgeois revolutions had some features in
common. They were transitions from absolute to constitutional
monarchy, with a republican interlude. It would be misleading to
focus on the transition from absolutism to republic as the revolu-
tion, because it is only the first stage in a process whose overall
pattern is "Two steps forward, one step backward." In both revo-
lutions this republican phase was accompanied by the formation
of communist movements, who - following the revolutionary log-
ic of going to extremes - wanted to take a third step. Marx sug-
gests that the events of 1 794, which he construed as a premature
bid for power by the French proletariat, were part and parcel of the
bourgeois revolution. There was a need to make a clean sweep of
the past before the bourgeois order could be constructed. This
historical task was, unbeknownst to themselves, perfonned by the
workers. As usual, Marx could not resist the temptation to find a
meaning in these aborted attempts.
The main difference between the two revolutions concerns the
structure of the alliances that carried them out. "In 1648 the bour-
geoisie was allied with the modem aristocracy against the mon-
archy, the feudal aristocracy and the established church. In 1789
the bourgeoisie was allied with the people against the monarchy,
the aristocracy and the established church." Specifically, Marx
suggests that the English revolution was carried out by an alliance
of the bourgeoisie and the big landowners. The latter provided the
fonner with the labor force it needed to operate its factories, while
also benefiting from the general economic development that the
bourgeoisie set in motion. The suggestion of a divided gentry ap-
pears to lack empirical support, and in any case the argument as a
156
Politics in the Transition to Capitalism
whole is a piece of blatantly anachronistic teleological thinking. In
1640 there were no actual or anticipated factories in need of work-
ers. Also, Marx's characterization of the coalition structure behind
the French revolution does not appear to stand up in the light of
more recent research. French landed property was probably more
integrated with bourgeois property than Marx thought.
Marx, however, thought that the explanation of the revolutions
could be found in their achievements rather than in their causes. In
an extravagantly teleological remark, he writes that the bourgeois
revolutions "reflected the needs of the world at that time rather
than the needs ofthose parts ofthe world where they occurred, that
is England and France." The "needs of the world" amounted,
essentially, to the abolition of feudal privilege and the creation of a
regime offree competition. Whatever the revolutionaries may have
thought they were doing, this is what they achieved.
This argument, however, presents a puzzle. On the one hand,
Marx insisted on the progressive function of the absolute monar-
chies in creating a national market and abolishing barriers to com-
petition. On the other hand, we now find him saying that these
were the achievements of bourgeois revolutions directed against
these very monarchies. The puzzle can be resolved by recalling the
self-defeating character of absolutism. On the one hand, the abso-
lutist state finds that it is in its interest as an autonomous agent to
strengthen industry and hence the bourgeoisie. On the other hand,
the protection of the material power of the bourgeoisie also tends
to generate its political power and hence to threaten the autonomy
of the state. The state, therefore, will be somewhat halfhearted in
its defense of the bourgeois interests, trying, perhaps, to achieve
industrialization without all the concomitant social and political
reforms. At some point the state will want to stop further liber-
alization. At that point, however, the bourgeoisie may already be
too strong to be stopped. If so, the bourgeois revolution will occur
to complete the process begun by the absolute monarchy. Al-
though a rational absolutist ruler might want to stop the process
just before the bourgeoisie gathers the strength needed for a revo-
lution, he is not likely to succeed in doing so, for three reasons.
First, although we can, with the benefit of hindsight, perceive the
157
Marx's Theory of Politics
internal tensions in the absolutist state, it is not clear that the
absolutist rulers themselves were in a position to do so. Second,
the need to fortify the country against external enemies may in any
case have been more pressing. Third, depriving the bourgeoisie of
the means to take political power would also deprive it of much of
its economic usefulness. The only thing that will keep an eco-
nomically vigorous bourgeoisie away from power is lack of moti-
vation to take it.
Marx's analyses of the German revolution of 1848-9 can also be
seen in this perspective. In the initial stage of the revolution he
appears to have believed that the pattern of the French revolution
would largely be reproduced. The alliance structure would be the
same, except that the workers would playa more active part than
merely carrying out the dirty work of the bourgeoisie, to be re-
pressed as soon as their historical mission was fulfilled. Also, when
the revolution made slower progress than expected, Marx put his
trust in a repeat of the counterrevolutionary wars Qf the French
revolution. Russia would intervene against Germany and ignite
the revolutionary struggle.
Gradually, however, it dawned upon Marx that his adversaries
could read the situation as well as he. If he could perceive that a
bourgeois regime would set up conditions that, farther down the
road, would undermine it, a rational bourgeoisie, reading the
same signs, would keep away from power. If he could anticipate
that Russian intervention would unleash the forces of revolution,
a rational czar would remain passive. If he could learn from histo-
ry, so could his adversaries. Marx sinned against a main rule of
political rationality: Never make your plans strongly dependent on
the assumption that the adversary is less than fully rational. (Be-
cause he tended to emphasize teleology rather than rationality, he
rarely sinned against another: Never make your plans strongly
dependent on the assumption that the adversary is fully rational.)
Later communist leaders have been victims of the same hubris,
most notably in the sequence of events that led up to the Shanghai
massacre of Chinese communists in 1927. Although the CCP (or
the Komintem) believed they could ally themselves with Chiang
Kaishek for a while and discard him when his usefulness was
exhausted, the manipulators ended up as the manipulated.
158
Politics in the Transition to Communism
POLITICS IN THE TRANSITION TO COMMUNISM
Marx's writings on the political transition to communism cluster
in his two periods of intense political activity. Between 1848 and
1850 he wrote numerous political statements and newspaper arti-
cles from which one can glean some of his views on strategy and
tactics. During the years of the First International. between 1865
and 1875, he also wrote widely on political and organizational
matters. As evidence for his thinking, these texts are quite unrelia-
ble. Being shaped in large part by external. practical pressures,
they reflect the spirit of compromise as well as sheer exhortation.
Whereas circumstances biased the early texts toward what came to
be known as ultraleftist deviation, the later probably reflect the
opposite deviation. The radical artisans who formed the core of the
Communist League and of the progressive faction of the 1848
movement wanted an immediate proletarian bid for power. Al-
though Marx went along with some of their demands, he probably
believed them to be utopian and premature. In his later years his
public espousal of a possible peaceful road to communism may
have represented a similar tactical concession. As a result, it is very
difficult to reconstruct Marx's real views.
There are two central questions that ought to be faced by any
theory of the communist revolution. First, under which conditions
would a rational working class want to undertake a revolution?
Second, how could a rational capitalist class or a rational govern-
ment allow these conditions to arise? Failing plausible answers to
these questions, a theory of revolution must invoke political irra-
tionality on the part of workers, capitalists, or government. Marx,
to be sure, did not state the problem in these terms. Nevertheless,
because they seem to correspond to the reality of the situation, we
must see whether his views can be restated within a framework of
this type.
It follows from the central propositions of historical materialism
that the communist revolution will occur when and because com-
munist relations of production become optimal for the develop-
ment of the productive forces. Let us first see whether this view
can be defended and then examine the weaker versions that arise
if we drop the causal or the chronological parts of the claim.
159
Marx's Theory of Politics
Marx argued that under capitalism the productive forces devel-
op at an ever faster rate. Yet at some level of their development
communist relations of production will allow for an even higher
rate of their further progress. Hence. the communist revolution
will be caused not by technical stagnation but by the prospect of an
unprecedented technical expansion. The idea that communism
will bypass capitalism with respect to the rate of innovation is itself
highly implausible. but that is not our concern here. Rather. we
must ask if this prospect can plausibly motivate the workers to
carry out a revolution. Rational workers might. in the first place,
be subject to a free-rider temptation that would block the efficacy
of that motivation. Even if we assume that workers are able to act
collectively to promote their common interests, a rational working
class would still. in the second place, take account of the costs of
transition and. moreover, be subject to some degree of myopia and
risk aversion. It is not reasonable to expect workers to sacrifice
what they have - a dynamic, efficient capitalism - for the sake of a
remote and uncertain possibility of a system that will perform even
better. Having much more to lose than their chains, they will be
reluctant to throw them off.
A first retreat from this highy implausible view is to drop the
causal implication of historical materialism while retaining the
chronological one. On this view. what will motivate the workers
to revolution is not the esoteric thought experiment that was just
sketched. Rather. they will be driven to revolt because of directly
observable features of capitalism: alienation. exploitation. waste,
inefficiency. trade cycles. It just so happens that the time at which
these ills become so grave as to create the subjective conditions for
a communist revolution is also the time at which communism
becomes objectively superior as a framework for developing the
productive forces. The communist revolution occurs when but not
because capitalism becomes a brake on further technical progress.
This view, too, is implausible. In Leon Trotsky's words, "so-
cieties are not so rational in building that the dates for proletarian
dictatorship arrive exactly at that time when the economic and
cultural conditions are ripe for socialism." Indeed. Trotsky's own
work supports a stronger statement. Societies are systematically so
irrational in building that the objective conditions for communism
160
Politics in the Transition to Communism
and the subjective conditions for a communist revolution never
coincide. Theory suggests and experience confirms that commu-
nist revolutions will take place only in backward countries that are
nowhere near the stage of development at which they could over-
take capitalism. Russia around the turn of the century was a breed-
ing ground for revolution because its backwardness created the
proper economic and ideological conditions. Being a latecomer to
economic development, Russian factories were free to employ
techniques of large-scale production, requiring huge numbers of
workers. Such concentration facilitates class consciousness, which
is further helped by the absence of a reformist tradition and the
possibility of drawing on the stock of advanced socialist ideas de-
veloped in the West.
For Marx's argument to be plausible, the ruling classes would
have to be somewhat irrational. Because the development of the
productive forces creates the material conditions for a general im-
provement in the standard of living, including protection against
unemployment, he must assume that capitalists or government fail
to deploy these means to preempt a communist revolution. Or, at
the very least, he must assume that they deploy them irrationally
and inefficiently, by combining stick and carrot in a way that only
incites the revolutionary energy of the workers. Revolution is
more likely to occur in a society where the level of development
has not reached the stage where widespread concessions to the
workers are affordable - but at that stage a communist revolution
will also be premature, as far as the ability to develop the produc-
tive forces is concerned. These problems were at the root of the
controversy between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in the Russian
socialist movement. The former wanted the workers to pull their
punches in the struggle with the capitalists, so that capitalism
could have the time to reach the stage at which a viable commu-
nism could be introduced. The latter argued, more realistically,
that by postponing the revolution one would take it off the agenda
for good.
Most of the time Marx seems to have assumed that the first
communist revolution will occur in the most advanced capitalist
country. In some writings, however, he anticipated Trotsky's "the-
ory of combined and uneven development," according to which
161
Marx's Theory of Politics
the center-periphery dimension of capitalism is crucial for the
possibility of revolution. In The Class Struggles in France he wrote
that although England is the "demiurge of the bourgeois cosmos"
and the ultimate cause of capitalist crises, revolutions first occur on
the European continent. "Violent outbreaks must naturally occur
rather in the extremities of the bourgeois body than in its heart."
Some thirty years later he suggested, in correspondence with Rus-
sian socialists, that Russia might enjoy "advantages of back-
wardness" that would allow it to bypass the capitalist stage and go
directly on to communism.
This argument suggests that the subjective and the objective
conditions for communism will be developed in different parts of
the capitalist world system. The objective conditions emerge in the
advanced capitalist countries, the subjective ones in the backward
nations. How could the two sets of conditions be brought to-
gether? Around 1850 Marx argued, as did Trotsky after him, that
revolution, once it had occurred in the capitalist periphery, would
spread to the center. Again he put his hope in counterrevolution-
ary intervention as the mechanism that would ignite the general
revolutionary conflagration; again he failed to see that a rational
capitalist government would, for that very reason, abstain from
intervening. Thirty years later he emphasized the diffusion of tech-
nology from West to East, rather than the diffusion ofrevolution in
the opposite direction. This argument also fails, however, because
it is much more difficult to borrow technology than Marx thought.
The use of advanced industrial technology requires education and
mental habits that cannot themselves be borrowed.
We must conclude, therefore, that Marx's theory of the commu-
nist revolution assumes that workers, capitalists, or governments
of capitalist nations must behave irrationally. Because he did not
provide any arguments for this assumption, his theory fails. The
point is not that events could not conceivably develop according to
one of these scenarios. Irrational behavior can be an extremely
powerful political force. Rather, the point is that Marx provided no
rational grounds for thinking that events would develop as he
hoped. His scenarios were, essentially, based on wishful thinking,
not on social analysis.
The socialist movement has entertained different conceptions of
162
Politics in the Transition to Communism
revolutionary strategy and tactics. They may be distinguished by
the order in which the following goals are achieved: the pro-
letarian seizure of power, the winning of a majority to the pro-
letarian cause, and the transformation of society. According to one
strategy, the workers should first seize power, then begin to
change society, and finally win a majority. This was Lenin's strat-
egy, using power to transform the peasantry into industrial work-
ers who will adhere to the communist goals. There are indications
that at one point Marx contemplated this strategy. Some of his
statements on Germany after the bourgeoisie's retreat from power
in December 1848 can support this "ultraleftist" conception but
can also, with equal plausibility, be understood as compromise
formulas. A variant of the minoritarian strategy is found in some
comments on Russia from around 1870. Marx agrees that the
Russian workers must take power while in a minority but adds
that their first action must be to take measures to win the peasant-
ry over to their side, thus effectively reversing the order of the last
two stages in the Leninist strategy.
Another, reformist strategy proposes to begin by transforming
society from within, thus creating a majority for communism that
will make the final seizure of power a mere formality. Again, there
is some support for this view in Marx's writings. In Capital III he
describes how joint-stock companies and workers' cooperatives
effectuate "the abolition of the capitalist mode of production with-
in the capitalist mode of production itself." We should not infer,
however, that he believed this could be the main road to commu-
nism. This is pretty obvious with respect to joint-stock companies,
but the case for workers' cooperatives might seem more promis-
ing. The obstacle to this path, however, is that communist enclaves
within capitalism will function badly precisely because they oper-
ate within a hostile environment; reforms that are viable in the
large may work badly when implemented in the small. "Restricted
to the dwarfish forms into which individual wage slaves can elabo-
rate it by their private efforts, the cooperative system will never
transform capitalistic society."
Finally, there is the strategy of the majority revolution in which
the workers win a majority, seize power, and use it to change
society. This was certainly Marx's preferred strategy with respect
163
Marx's Theory of Politics
to the advanced capitalist countries, which remained crucial to the
prospect of revolution, even if it were to start as a minority move-
ment in the backward countries. The further modalities of the
majority revolution depend on the answers given to three interre-
lated Questions. Was the working class to organize itself secretly or
openly? Should it use the existing political institutions or work
outside them? Would it be possible to introduce communism by
peaceful measures, or would a violent revolution prove necessary?
On the first issue Marx's position was perfectly clear. He was
consistently opposed to secret societies and conspiracies, arguing
that "if the working classes conspire, they conspire publicly, as the
sun conspires against darkness." On the other issues his views
were more nuanced. Writing about France and Germany, he ar-
gued that it would be disastrous if the workers tried to use the
existing state apparatus to further their own purposes. Some arti-
cles on England suggest a similar view. He argued that the political
opposition was mainly useful to the government as a safety valve:
"it does not stop the motion of the engine, but preserves it by
letting off in vapour the power which might otherwise blow up the
whole concern." Yet with the rise of Bakunin's faction in the
International, he felt the need to demarcate himself from the anar-
chists on his left, not merely from the state socialists on his right. In
an article on "political indifferentism" he warns against the idea
that any involvement with the state is contrary to the interests of
the workers, citing the English Factory Acts as an example of what
can be achieved by working within the existing institutions.
In The German Ideolo9Y Marx made a point that was later to be
developed by the French socialist Sorel (much admired by Mus-
solini). A violent revolution is doubly necessary, "not only be-
cause the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but
also because the class overthrowin9 it can only in a revolution
succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted
to found society anew." His later writings moved away from this
view, emphasizing that a peaceful transition was desirable and
arguably also possible. In 1852 Marx asserted that the inevitable
result of universal suffrage in England would be the political su-
premacy of the working class, suggesting the possibility of a peace-
ful road to communism. In speeches and interviews around 1870
164
Politics in the Transition to Communism
he suggests that this path, although blocked in countries with a
history of violent repression of the workers such as France, may be
feasible in England and Holland where the political traditions are
different. It is difficult to decide whether these were statements
made on the grounds of political expediency or whether they cor-
respond to deeply held convictions.
Between the communist revolution and the full-blown commu-
nist society there lie two intermediate forms. The first is "the dic-
tatorship of the proletariat," a phrase that has acquired an omin-
ous meaning that probably was not present to Marx and his
contemporaries. Dictatorship at his time and in his work did not
necessarily mean anything incompatible with democracy. Rather,
it involves a form of extra legality, a political rule in breach of the
existing constitution. From The Civil War in France, where Marx
considers the Paris Commune as a model of the dictatorship of the
proletariat, we can infer that it also involves majority rule, disman-
tling of the existing state apparatus, and instant revocability of the
political representatives of the people. In one text there is a brief
reference to "crushing the resistance of the bourgeoisie," but again
we should not assume that the phrase must be read with the
sinister meaning that comes most easily to the contemporary
reader.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is a stage in the political tran-
sition to communism. In the Critique of the Gotha Program Marx
states that it is succeeded by an economic transitional form, which
Marx refers to as the lower stage of communism. Roughly speak-
ing, it is a form of state socialism with distribution according to
labor effort. Marx has very little to say about these two intermedi-
ate stages and their relation to one another. Perhaps he could be
read as suggesting that the dictatorship of the proletariat is neces-
sary because of the conflicts of interest that will exist between
workers and the former capitalists, whereas the institutions in the
lower stage of communism are necessitated by the conflict of in-
terest among the workers, who will still be imbued with capitalist
mentality even though the capitalist class has disappeared.
In the final stage of communism, all political institutions disap-
pear. What takes their place is the self-government ofthe commu-
nity - a task, according to Marx, no more difficult than the control
165
Marx's Theory of Politics
of an individual over himself. With the disappearance of alienation
and exploitation, social relations will be perfectly transparent and
nonconflictual. This conception of communism is massively uto-
pian. Social causality will always to some extent remain opaque.
There are many other grounds for conflict of interest besides ex-
ploitation: Even in communism people will disagree over protec-
tion of the environment, the rights of the unborn or of future
generations, the proper amount of the social product to be spent
on health care, and similar issues.
Ultimately, Marx's vision of the good society was of organic
character. He conceived of communism as a society of individual
producers in spontaneous coordination, much as the cells of the
body work together for the common good - with the difference
that Marx insisted on the uniqueness of each individual producer.
No such society will ever exist; to believe it will is to court disaster.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Introduction. An encyclopedic survey of Marx's political writings is Hal
Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, vol. I. State and Bureaucracy
(Monthly Review Press, 1977). A valuable conceptual discussion is J.
Maguire, Marx's Theory of Politics (Cambridge University Press, 1978).
The capitalist state. The view that the task of the state is to enforce the
cooperative solution to a Prisoner's Dilemma is argued in M. Taylor, Anar·
chy and Cooperation (Wiley, 1976). Interpretations of the noncoincidence
of economic and political power in capitalism include S. M. Lipset, "So-
cial stratification: social class," in International Encyclopedia of the Social
Sciences (Macmillan, 1968), vol. 15; J. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism,
and Democracy (Allen and Unwin, 1961); G. D. H. Cole, Studies in Class
Structure (Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1955). The argument for state au-
tonomy made here owes much to D. North, Structure and Change in Eco-
nomic History (Norton, 1981), and to the essays by A. przeworski collected
in his Capitalism and Social Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 1985).
Politics in the transition to capitalism. The contrast between "plenty" and
"power" is taken from J. Viner, "Power versus plenty as objectives of
foreign policy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," World Politics
1 (1948): }-29. Recent Marxist studies of absolutism include P. Ander-
son, Lineages of the Absolutist State (New Left Books, 1974), and R. Bren-
ner, "The agrarian roots of European capitalism," Past and Present 97
(1982): 16-113. A brilliant brief account of the English revolution is L.
166
Bibliography
Stone, The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642 (Routledge and
Kegan Paul. 1972). Among the many works on the French revolution,
two books by F. Furet are especially relevant in the present perspective:
Penser la Revolution Franfaise (Gallimard, 1978) and Marx et la Revolution
Franfaise (forthcoming). Marx's articles on and during the German revo-
lution may be usefully read with T. S. Hamerow, Restoration, Revolution,
Reaction: Bconomics and Politics in Germany, 1815-1871 (Princeton Univer-
sit yPress, 1966).
Politics in the transition to communism. A good introduction to the ra-
tionality of revolutionary behavior is J. Roemer, "Rationalizing revolu-
tionary ideology," Econometrica 53 (1985): 84-108. The prospects for
communism in backward countries are discussed in L. Trotsky, A History
of the Russian Revolution (Pluto Press, 1977), and in B. Knei-Paz, The Social
and Political Thouoht of Leon Trotsky (Oxford University Press, 1977).
Marx's political thinking before 1850 is exhaustively documented and
discussed in R. Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Enoels, vol. I, Marxism
and Totalitarian Democracy, 1818-1850 (University of Pittsburgh Press,
1974). The discussion of the various revolutionary strategies draws heav-
ily on S. Moore, Three Tactics (Monthly Review Press, 1963). Another
valuable book QY the same author is Marx on the Choice between Socialism
and Communism (Harvard University Press, 1980).
167
9
THE MARXIST CRITIQUE OF
IDEOLOGY
INTRODUCTION
M
ARX'S critique of ideology has been among the most influ-
ential of his ideas. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud are currently
seen as the great debunkers, who taught us never to take words at
their face value but always to look behind them for some psycho-
logical or social interest they express or some situation that unbe-
knownst to the agents shape their thoughts and desires. When we
refer to a view as an instance of false consciousness - a frequently
used term for ideological thinking - we do not simply label it as an
error or misperception, a thought that is false to the facts. We
suggest that it is falsified and distorted in a systematic way, by
causal processes that impede the search for truth. Unlike an acci-
dental mistake, which offers little resistance to correction (beyond
the general reluctance to admit error), ideologies are shaped by
deep-seated tendencies that help them survive criticism and re-
futation for a long time.
What are the forces that shape and maintain ideological think-
ing? The standard and, as it were, official Marxist answer is in-
terest; more specifically, the interest of the ruling class. On this
point Marxism deviates from the Freudian conception of false con-
sciousness, according to which it is necessarily the interest of the
person himself that distorts his thinking, not that of some other
person or class. The central question, which is usually left unre-
solved by Marxist writers on ideology (including Marx), is how-
by what mechanism - the interest of the ruling class is supposed to
shape the views of other members of society. The view that rulers
and exploiters shape the world view of the oppressed by con-
scious, cynical manipulation is too simplistic, not because there
have been no attempts to do exactly this but because they are
168
Introduction
unlikely to succeed. By and large, cynicism in the rulers breeds
cynicism, not belief, among the subjects. Conversely, successful
indoctrination requites that the rulers believe in what they are
preaching; they must not have a purely instrumental attitude to-
ward their doctrines. Needless to say, the mere fact that a ruling
class benefits from the illusions of their subjects does not prove
that it is causally responsible for them. If, for some reason or other,
the subjects fall victim to ideological misrepresentation of the
world, this is likely to harm their interests and, to that extent, to
benefit the rulers even if the latter were in no way causally in-
volved in the error.
Marx does not, however, always stick to his official answer. He
also suggests that ideologies can arise or take root spontaneously
in the minds of those subject to them, without any assistance from
others. Here, again, he differs from the Freudian conception of
false consciousness by stressing the social causation of ideology
rather than any individualized genetic account. Ideology in Marx's
sense is not an idiosyncratic complex of beliefs and attitudes
caused by a unique set of experiences. It is a figure of thought
shared by many people and caused by whatever is common in
their situation. Although psychoanalysis may well address itself to
the exceptional, as in Freud's study of Leonardo da Vinci, the
Marxist critique of ideology must look at what is typical, wide-
spread, mediocre.
There is another difference between Freud's psychological and
Marx's sociological conception of false consciousness. According
to psychoanalytic theory, the object of individual attitudes is the
individual himself - his experiences, his perception of other peo-
ple, including his perception of their perception of him. With some
exceptions, psychoanalytical theory does not try to explain peo-
ple's political attitudes or their views on social causality. The
Marxist theory of ideology addresses itself to factual and nor-
mative beliefs about society.12 This difference is connected to an-
12 To be sure, there have been attempts to explain. say, physical theories as ideo·
logical constructions. By and large, however, they have been spectacularly
unsuccessful. They have usually rested on arbitrarily selected "similarities"
between features of a physical theory and features of society, without any
attempt to produce evidence for a causal connection.
169
The Marxist Critique of Ideol09Y
other. In Freudian theory one usually assumes that the false con-
sciousness is accompanied by an unconscious awareness of the
true state of affairs - an awareness that the person has repressed,
substituting for it a false representation. False consciousness in-
volves self-deception. The Marxist theory of ideology makes no
similar assumption. True, in the formation of ideology there is
often (but far from always) an element of wishful thinking, the
belief that the world is as one would like it to be, but this phe-
nomenon differs from self-deception in that there is no dual belief
system at work. The assumption of self-deception in Freudian the-
ory appears plausible because the person stands in a peculiarly
intimate relation to the true facts about himself; it might look as if
in some sense he can hardly avoid knowing them. Whatever one
thinks of this argument, there is no way in which people have
immediate access to the truth about society. Any view of society -
true or false, distorted or not - is a construction.
Shared ideological beliefs arise in two ways. They can emerge
simultaneously and spontaneously in the minds of many people,
who are exposed to similar external influences and subject to sim-
ilar psychological processes. Or they arise first in the mind of one
person and then spread by diffusion to other people who for some
reason are disposed to accept them. The sociology of knowledge -
the non-Marxist version of the theory ofideology - makes a useful
distinction between the study of the production of ideas and the
study of the acceptation of ideas. To use a biological analogy, one
may hold that ideas appear like mutations, at random, and then
become rejected or accepted according to their "social fitness."l3
Or one may hold that the emergence of ideas is itself a phe-
nomenon that can be studied sociologically. Ideas that are "in the
air" may appear simultaneously in several places. 14 The Marxist
theory of ideologies employs both methods.
13 The analogy. as usual in such cases. has only partial validity. because different
people can accept different ideas. corresponding to their social position and
interest. One cannot expect a dominant ideology to emerge by chance variation
and social selection. in the way features of organisms develop by chance varia-
tion and natural selection.
14 There are various further possibilities. One might argue that social conditions.
though neutral with respect to the content of new ideas. can speed up or slow
down the rate at which they appear. Or one might argue that social conditions.
170
Introduction
There are two kinds of attitudes that are subject to ideological
bias: affective and cognitive, or "hot" and "cold." What people
value for themselves, what they believe is morally required of
themselves and others, how they think society's goods ought to be
distributed - these are matters that directly engage their passions.
What they believe with respect to particular issues of fact and
general causal connections are not matters that in themselves en-
gage their passion, except possibly the passion for truth. A rational
person would try to arrive at these factual beliefs in a coolly de-
tached way, because beliefs formed in these ways have a better
chance of being true and because true beliefs have a better chance
of serving his passions than false beliefs. Recall Paul Veyne's
phrase: Beliefs shaped by passion serve passion badly.
The bias that shapes ideological attitudes can itself be affective or
cognitive, hot or cold. Hence, we may distinguish among four
kinds of ideological attitudes, according to whether the attitudes
themselves and the biases underlying them are hot or cold. First,
affective attitudes may be shaped by affectively biased processes, as
in the story of the fox and the grapes. People often adjust their
aspirations to what seems feasible, so as to avoid living with the
tension and frustration caused by the desire for the unattainable.
Second, and perhaps surprisingly, hot motivations may be shaped
by cold cognitive factors, as when preferences are reversed by
redescribing the options.
15
Third, cognitive attitudes are often
shaped by motivational processes, as in the phenomena of wishful
thinking, self-deception, and the like. Finally, cognition may be
subject to specifically cognitive distortions, as when people have
too much confidence in small samples or otherwise ignore the
basic principles of statistical inference.
Of these mechanisms, all but the second have some importance
in Marx's theory of ideology. The first underlies his often cited
statement that religion is the "opium of the people," with the
concomitant idea that religion helps people adapt to their misera-
ble lives in this world. The third operates in the selection of world
though not uniquely detennining what will appear, set limits on the content of
new ideas.
15 People who will not use credit cards if they incur a surcharge for using them
may not mind doing so if there is a cash discount.
171
The Marxist Critique of Ideology
views: Among the many different accounts of social and economic
causation, each group or class will select one that seems to justify
special consideration for its interests. The last is important when
Marx offers class position rather than class interest as the source of
ideological thinking. The third mechanism and the fourth are
somewhat similar in that both can be characterized as pars pro toto
fallacies. Ideology formation by wishful thinking operates when
members or representatives of a particular class stipulate that the
realization of their interest coincides with the realization of the
interests of society as a whole. Ideology formation by class-specific
illusions operates when members of a particular class believe that
the causal processes they can observe from their particular stand-
point also are valid for the economy as a whole.
Hence, Marx's actual studies of ideological thought differ from
his "official theory" - the ruling ideas are the ideas that serve the
interest of the ruling class - in two ways. First, when he refers to
interest as an explanation of ideology, it is often in a causal rather
than a functional mode. Instead of pointing to the consequences of
a certain belief with respect to certain interests, he cites the interest
as the cause of the belief. One cannot conclude that interest-gener-
ated beliefs will serve the interest of the believer, because "beliefs
shaped by passion serve passion badly," or that it will serve the
interest of the ruling class, because some of the beliefs of that class
may themselves be shaped by interest. Second, class position as
well as class interest enters into the explanation of ideological
thinking. Again, such class-based illusions will not tend to serve
the interest of class members or the interests of the ruling class if its
members are also victims of this mechanism.
Ideologies belong to the superstructure, defined as the set of
noneconomic phenomena in society that can be explained by the
, economic structure. The argument in the preceding paragraph was
directed against the view that all superstructural phenomena tend
to stabilize the economic structure by serving the interest of the
ruling class; and, by implication, against the idea that the super-
structure can be explained by its tendency to stabilize the eco-
nomic structure. Even, however, when beliefs serve the interest of
the rulers, this need not be part of the explanation of why they are
held. If the subjects, to reduce cognitive dissonance, limit their
172
Political Ideologies
aspiration level to what is feasible so that, for instance, they have
no desire for political freedom, this clearly serves the interest of the
rulers. Yet the explanation in this case will be found in the interest
and needs of the subjects.
16
POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES
In The German Ideology and in the political writings on France,
Marx elaborated a theory of political ideology that, although
somewhat obscure and hard to grasp in its details, remains valu-
able and useful in broad outlines. The central argument concerns
the relation between the special interests of a given class and the
general interests of society. Two questions are involved. First, what
is the causal role of particular class interests in shaping the class
members' conceptions of the general interest? Second, to what
extent does the realization of particular interests coincide with the
realization of the general interest? Class members, or at least their
ideological representatives, always think that the general interest
can best be realized by measures that also happen to promote their
special interests. Sometimes this belief is in fact true, or at least
accepted as true by members of other classes. When this is the
case, the class in question acquires irresistible force and mo-
mentum, as was true of the French bourgeoisie in the events lead-
ing up to 1789. Its demand for the abolition of privileges struck a
profound chord in other parts ofthe popUlation. When it is not the
case, the class appears as hopelessly utopian and impotent, as was
the case of the French petty bourgeoisie in 1848. Its demand for
cheap credit was not seen as corresponding to anyone else's
interest.
According to this view, a political ideology is not a pure ex-
pression of self-interest. Political struggle is not a form of bargain-
ing, in which self-interest is recognized as the motivating force of
all participants. As noted by Tocqueville around 1830, political
parties that are too manifestly motivated by self-interest will not
16 Whether the need for dissonance reduction corresponds to the real interest of
the subjects. in the sense of an objective interest in liberation from oppression.
is irrevelant here. To have explanatory power. an interest must be actual;
whether it is also real in some objective sense cannot make a difference.
173
The Marxist Critique of Ideology
inflame their audience or, more importantly, their own members;
"ils s'echauffent toujours a froid." At the very least, one has to
pretend to act for the general interest. When working-class parties
demand redistribution of income in their favor, they usually feel
an obligation to argue that it will not cause massive damage to
economic efficiency.17 When their opponents demand tax cuts,
they usually add that trickle-down benefits and supply-side effects
will work out in the interest of all.
More strongly, one can argue that class members or representa-
tives will actually believe or come to believe in the identity of their
special interest and the general interest. Three arguments point in
this direction. First, one can invoke a natural-selection argument:
Parties with leaders who do not believe in their own ideology will
fail to carry conviction and gain adherents. Second, there is a
psychological argument: Even people who initially are just pre-
tending to argue in terms of the general interest will, after some
time, come to believe in what they are saying. Third, it is by no
means difficult to acquire the conviction that the general interest is
served by implementing one's own particular interest; the nature
of social reality and of the human psyche conspire to make it very
easy indeed. Let me expand on the third point, which is of funda-
mental importance.
For one thing, it is frequently true that there are several institu-
tional arrangements, all of which are better for everyone than a
state of anarchy and each of which has the additional effect of
selectively favoring the interests of a particular class. By comparing
the effect of a given policy with the effect of having no policy at all
rather than with the effect of another policy, it is easy to represent it
as being in everybody's interest. For another, given the complexity
of social causation and interaction, there is rarely full agreement
among social scientists, and often there is strong and persistent
17 For instance. it is not likely that any political party would explicitly advocate
the distributive solution argued by John Rawls. that income ought to be dis-
tributed so as to maximize the welfare of the worst-off group of people in
society. At the very least. this advocacy would be politically suicidal if the last
small increment of welfare of that group could be achieved only by a large
reduction in the welfare of everybody else.
174
Political Ideologies
disagreement. Among contending views on social causation, and
notably among contending economic theories, it is often possible to
find one that asserts or implies that implementing the particular
interest of one class is the only way of promoting the common good.
In that case, nothing is more human than to espouse that theory as
the correct account of how the world works and to argue in good
faith that everyone will be better off by removing all obstacles to the
realization of the particular set of interests that just happen to be
one's own. On this account, the impact of special interests on
specific policy options is mediated by a conception of the general
interest. IS Because the connection is indirect rather than immedi-
ate, it need not obtain in each and every case. Up to a certain point,
this is all to the benefit of the class, because its claim to represent the
general interest is more credible if it occasionally advocates policies
that go against its particular interests. This does not, of course, carry
any implication that this benefit explains why a class sometimes
espouses such policies.
A political movement, on this account, is a standing offer to the
public. The offer is taken up when circumstances are such as to
make it appear favorable. It is a bit like a broken-down watch that
shows the correct time once in every twelve hours. In a capitalist
economy there will always be some parties advocating more cen-
tral planning, others arguing for an extension of the welfare state,
and still others for giving freer rein to market forces, all on the
grounds of the common good. Their success does not depend on
the rationality of their programs, because they are all equally
swayed by wishful thinking. Rather, it depends on whether their
clock happens to show the right time. Sometimes it is clear to
everyone outside the hard core of ideologically committed indi-
viduals that one program is better suited than another to the needs
of the moment. At other times dissatisfaction with the current
18 It is sometimes said that in politics disagreement is rarely about values but
usually about facts. This observation, though often correct, must be supple-
mented by pointing out that the explanation of factual disagreement is fre-
quently to be found in value differences. The "cold" content of the beliefs over
which people disagree then goes together with "hot" mechanisms for belief
formation.
175
The Marxist Critique of Ideol09Y
government is what detennines whether the "time has come" for
a new party.
A political ideology, to be successful, has to be couched in terms
of the general interest. Marx argued, however, that success could
be self-defeating. The French bourgeoisie, when successfully de-
manding the abolition of privileges, also prepared the ground for
its own future defeat by admitting its future enemy to the political
arena. The bourgeoisie would no doubt have liked an abolition of
privileges tailor-made to its interests, but, as Tocqueville noticed, it
is difficult to contain democracy once it has been introduced.
When the idea of natural privileges ceased to be viable, the only
remaining options were dictatorship, enforcing man-made priv-
ileges, and democracy, abolishing all privileges. Before the modern
age, political ideology was still particularistic, presenting, in
Marx's words, an almost zoological picture of the natural rights,
duties, and obligations of the different social classes. When choos-
ing to attack the very notion of natural privilege, rather than sub-
stituting one set of privilege holders for another, the bourgeoisie
played the sorcerer's apprentice. The universalistic political ide-
ology they created turned out to have consequences beyond what
they had intended.
ECONOMIC THOUGHT AS IDEOLOGY
Any reader of Marx's major economic writings will have been
struck by the way he discusses the views of his opponents. Only
occasionally does he follow the nonnal scholarly practice of argu-
ing the merits of their case. Much more frequently he takes a
reductionist approach, in which the views of other writers do not
so much represent alternative approaches to the same economic
reality as part of the reality to be explained. Occasionally this
practice degenerates into ad hominem abuse, but it is not inherently
objectionable. It can be justified both as a contribution to the
sociology of knowledge and, less obviously, as part of economic
analysis proper. The latter role arises because many of the eco-
nomic theories that Marx dissects are, in his view, little more than
systematic expressions of spontaneously arising economic illu-
176
Economic Thought as Ideology
sions. To the extent that the economic agents themselves make
their decisions on the basis of such illusionary beliefs. they have
consequences for the production and distribution of goods.
Marx's critique of economic theory is stated at (needlessly) great
length in the three volumes of Theories of Surplus- Value. These
contain discussions of mercantilist and physiocratic doctrines, as
well as extensive treatments of Adam Smith, Ricardo, Malthus,
and a group of writers that Marx refers to as "vulgar economists."
The two criticisms most frequently deployed are, first, that the
economists do not go beyond the appearance of things to their real
essence and, second, that their theories tend to serve as apologies
for the existing capitalist system (or, in the case of the physiocrats,
pave the way for its emergence).
Most economists are unable to go beyond the appearance of
things to their inner essence. In their writings they do little more
than restate the manner in which economic relations appear to the
economic agents themselves, without any attempt to penetrate
more deeply into the nature of things. "But all science would be
superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things
directly coincided." In the 1861-3 Critique Marx compares his
critique of political economy to the Copernican revolution. which
similarly amounted to a denial of the apparent movement of the
sun around the earth. Only in communism will social relations
become perfectly transparent and the essence immediately coin-
cide with the appearance, which also means that the need for a
social science will disappear.
The essence-appearance distinction, as applied by Marx, is am-
biguous because the appearance, that which appears. allows for
two different antonyms. It may be contrasted with what is hidden,
and accessible only by the mediation of thought. In this sense one
might say, for example, that behind the visual appearance of a
table is the atomic structure that forms its essence. This was how
Marx conceived the relation between prices and labor values. The
latter are hidden magnitudes that are not subjective realities for the
economic agents, who make their decisions in terms of the observ-
able prices. Yet, he argued, in order to explain prices it is necessary
to go behind the veil of appearance and determine the values. The
177
The Marxist Critique of Ideolooy
argument is invalid, because equilibrium prices can be determined
without any reference to labor values. 19
Another reading of the distinction is inherently more interest-
ing. Here the salient feature of the appearance is that it is local -
what appears always appears to a person occupying a particular
standpoint and observing the phenomena from a particular per-
spective. Any given appearance may be contrasted with the olobal
network of appearances, which is not tied to any particular stand-
point. An example is the distinction between partial equilibrium
and general equilibrium in economics. In partial equilibrium anal-
ysis we consider an agent who is confronting a decision problem in
which the behavior of other firms is taken for given. In reality, of
course, the behavior of other firms is not "given" to them but
represents solutions to their decision problems. A full understand-
ing of the situation requires simultaneous consideration of all
these decision problems, as in general equilibrium analysis. A gen-
eral equilibrium must be a partial eqUilibrium for each economic
agent.
Examples abound in Marx's writing of the distinction between
local appearance and global essence. Their general purpose is to
show how, in an unplanned economy, the isolation of the eco-
nomic agents from each other distorts their understanding of the
economic relations that obtain among them. (In addition, but only
partly because of lack of insight, this isolation tends to produce bad
outcomes.) Locally speaking, any agent can make a profit from
buying cheap and selling dear. Globally speaking, this is impossi-
ble: A system of circular cheating is logically impossible. Yet, Marx
observed, some writers committed the fallacy of arguing that gen-
eral profits could arise in circulation, wrongly believing that what
was possible for any commodity owner taken separately was possi-
ble for all of them taken simultaneously. Similarly, it is locally true
of each capital owner that he has a choice between investing his
capital in a productive enterprise and depositing it in a bank in
19 Actually, Marx was gUilty of the very fallacy - the confusion of essence and
appearance - that he imputed to his opponents. His procedure for deriving
prices from values involved using the rate of profit as a markup on labor values.
thereby committing the dialectical howler of admitting values to the realm of
appearance.
178
Economic Thought as Ideology
order to draw interest on it. Again, this is impossible on a global
scale, because if all capitalists decided to become rentiers none of
them would get an interest on his capital.
20
Yet, Marx argued, the
vulgar economists actually believe that interest-bearing capital has
a life of its own, independent of the productive activities that alone
can support it. The mercantilists were especially prone to such
fallacies. A quite different kind of example arises with respect to
the relation between labor and capital. Because capitalism, unlike
earlier modes of production, allows the worker the freedom to
choose his own master, it may appear as if labor is more indepen-
dent of capital than is actually the case. Although there is no
capitalist for whom the worker has to work, he has to work for
some capitalist or other. The freedom of choice obscures the struc-
tural dependency.
The other main criticism Marx addresses to the bourgeois econ-
omists is that their goal is not to reach a correct understanding of
the capitalist economy but to provide apologies for it. The closest
approximation to a truly scientific approach is that of Adam Smith
and Ricardo who, for instance, were willing to draw the logical
conclusion that the landowners were a parasitic class with no
useful economic function. Malthus, writing in the cynical tradition
of Bernard Mandeville's "private vices, public benefits," argued
that an idle class of landowners and other unproductive agents
was necessary to ensure that there was sufficient demand for the
goods produced. The "vulgar economists" Senior, Bastiat,
Carey, and others - used a somewhat different argument when
they referred to land, capital, and labor as factors of production, all
of which performed useful productive functions entitling their
owners to a reward. Again, however, the effect of their work was
apologetic. In Raymond Aron's phrase, they offered a "sociodicy,"
a secular version of the theodicy: an argument that the existing
society is the best of all possible societies and that all apparent
blemishes have an indispensable function for the whole.
The second line of argument is much less interesting than the
first. Marx writes as if a doctrine could be refuted by the mere
20 Conversely, if all capitalists simultaneously decided to withdraw their money
from the bank, it would go bankrupt and nobody would get his money.
179
The Marxist Critique of Ideology
demonstration that it serves group or class interests. Because vir-
tually any theory is likely to fit the interest of some group, this
argument is too strong: If accepted, it would leave no survivors.
Generally speaking, when the ideological character of a doctrine is
shown by its acceptation by a specific class, the demonstration has
no implications for its truth or falsity. By contrast, when one can
show that a certain view is contaminated at the level of production,
there is a strong presumption against its being true. A doctrine that
is accepted for social reasons does not lose any claim to being true;
a doctrine whose emergence in the first place is due to irrelevant
social reasons - class interest or class position - is unlikely to be
correct, except by accident.
Marx's treatment of the physiocrats deserves special mention
because of its frankly teleological perspective. Marx correctly
points to a paradoxical feature of their doctrine, that under the
guise of glorifying landed property they actually promoted indus-
trial capitalism. The physiocrats claimed that only land was really
productive and that industry was essentially "sterile." Again, their
view stemmed from excessive reliance on the appearance of
things. Because surplus creation in agriculture occurs in a much
more tangible form than in industry, they were led to deny that it
ever takes place in the latter. Yet from this misguided view they
drew a consequence that was very favorable to industrial interests,
namely, that industry, being sterile, ought to be exempt from taxa-
tion. Marx then takes the further step of arguing, or strongly sug-
gesting, that this historical irony actually explains the emergence
of the physiocrat doctrine. Not content with pointing out the para-
dox, he had to assign it a meaning or function in his wider histor-
ical scheme - that of preparing the ground for capitalism from
within the womb of precapitalist society.
RELIGION AS IDEOLOGY
Among the Young Hegelians, critique of religion was a constant
preoccupation. Marx was especially influenced by Feuerbach's
view that religion is a form of projection of the human essence
onto a divine being, who is then invested with power over man. In
religion man creates God, who appears to man as his creator. This
180
Religion as Ideology
conception of an inversion of subject and object, of creator and
created, is at the origin of Marx's concept of alienation. Man be-
comes the slave of his own products in economic life by the sub-
sumption of labor under capital; in politics, by the usurpation of
power by representatives or delegates; and in religion, by the sub-
jection of man to an imaginary divine being. Marx believed that in
communism all these forms of alienation would disappear: There
would no social or psychological inertia by which the results of
human action or the products ofthe human mind could take on an
independent existence. Economic self-enslavement will disappear
when the collective producers take possession of the means of
production. Political alienation will be eliminated first by making
all representatives instantly revocable (under the dictatorship of
the proletariat), and then by the society becoming so transparent
that the need for politics itself withers away. Religion, finally, will
disappear together with the conditions that made it necessary:
misery, class rule, commodity production.
Marx never offered a sustained analysis of religion. As is fre-
quently the case, we have to extract his views from a number of
brief passages scattered in various writings. To impose some struc-
ture on them, we may employ a distinction between the fact of
religion and the specific content. All class societies have had some
fonn of religion: This fact in itself demands an explanation. Next,
we would like to be able to explain why different societies have
had different religious systems: why some have been mono-
theistic, others not; why some societies epouse Catholicism, others
Protestantism, and so on. It would appear that Marx proposes a
hot, or motivational. explanation of the general fact of religion,
and a cold, or cognitive, analysis of the varying content. All class
societies have religion, because religion serves certain important
interests linked to class subjection and class domination. Cap-
italism has Christianity because of cognitive affinities between the
two systems.
The interest-related explanation of religion is twofold. In the
eadyarticle, "Contribution to the critique of Hegel's Philosophy of
Law: Introduction," religion is characterized, along Feuerbachian
lines, as "the general theory of [the social] world, its encyclopae-
dic compendium, its logic in popular fonn, its spiritualistic point
181
The Marxist Critique of Ideology
d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn comple-
ment, its universal source of consolation and justification. Re-
ligion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless
world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of
the people." The analytical core of this exuberant rhetoric seems
to be that religion arises spontaneously within the mind, as a
form of dissonance reduction: "the sigh of the oppressed crea-
ture."21 A few years later he offered a more "Marxist" (or proto-
Nietzschean) account, to the effect that religion encourages "cow-
ardice, self-contempt, abasement, submissiveness and humble-
ness" and thereby prevents the oppressed from revolting against
their state. Here the argument seems to be that religion is to be
explained by how it serves the interests of the ruling class, not by
the fulfillment of a need of the exploited classes.
E. P. Thompson's study of working-class Methodism in the In-
dustrial Revolution offers a more nuanced picture. He shows how
religion, though inculcated by the industrial capitalists, also met
autonomous needs of the workers. Moreover, the inculcation was
in no way a cynical manipulation. The faith of the employers was
as strong and genuine as that of the workers; indeed, as Paul
Veyne argues in a different context, it had to be if the inculcation
was to be successful. It would be wildly implausible to argue that
the religious belief of the employers could be explained by this
fact, that is, by the need to have a genuine faith in order to be able
to persuade the workers to adopt religious beliefs that work out to
the benefit of the employers. Although it may be possible to adopt
religious beliefs at will, motivated by the extrinsic benefits of hav-
ing the belief rather than by intrinsic faith, the intellectual contor-
tions necessary for this feat disqualify it as an explanation of mass
religion. Another alternative - an unsupported functional expla-
nation - is no better, and a well-supported functional explanation
has not been forthcoming.
Why, then, would employers have religious beliefs? More gen-
erally, what is the connection between religion and capitalism?
This problem, inade famous by Max Weber, also preoccupied
21 Although this passage was written two years before the fonnulation of histor-
ical materialism, it cannot be dismissed as a youthful "humanist aberration"
because Marx makes essentially the same point in a manuscript from 1865.
182
Religion as Ideology
Marx. Weber's question was: Did Calvinism predispose to specifi-
cally capitalist behavior, such as a high rate of savings and invest-
ment? His affirmative answer relied on a hot psychological mecha-
nism. According to Calvin's doctrine of predestination, there was
nothing the entrepreneurs could do to achieve salvation, but by
engaging in "inner-worldly asceticism" they could and did
achieve the certainty of being among the elect. E. P. Thompson
asks a different question: Did capitalist activities predispose toward
Puritanism? His affirmative answer again relies on a motivational
mechanism. Puritanism contributed to "the psychic energy and
social coherence of middle-class groups" - an argument that in
the absence of further details looks like an unsupported functional
explanation.
Marx also asked Thompson's question, or one very much like it,
and like him offered an affinnative answer. The nature of the
answer is, however, entirely different, because Marx relies ex-
clusively on various cold, cognitive connections. Unfortunately,
these are implausible taken separately and inconsistent taken
jointly. In his comments on the links among capitalism, Protes-
tantism, and Catholicism Marx set a disastrous precedent for many
later writers who have attempted to find "structural homologies"
or "isomorphisms" (two fancy terms for "similarities") between
economic structures and mental products. Because virtually any
two entities can be said to resemble each other in some respect,22
this practice has no other constraints than the inventiveness and
ingenuity of the writer: There are no reality constraints and no
reality control.
Marx suggests two inconsistent lines of argument. One is that
there is a strong connection between mercantilism and Protestant-
ism, the other that there is an elective affinity between mercan-
tilism and Catholicism. He was confused, apparently, by the fact
that money has two distinct features that point to different re-
ligious modes. On the one hand, money (gold and silver), unlike
credit, can be hoarded. Hoarding easily turns into an obsession,
which is related to the fanatical self-denying practices of extreme
22 Cf. the following "law of family likenesses"; For any two members of a family
there exists a third who asserts that there is a strong resemblance between
them.
183
The Marxist Critique of Ideology
Protestantism. On the other hand, money can be seen as the "in-
carnation" or "transubstantiation" of real wealth. In that sense
the monetary fetishism associated with mercantilism is related to
the specifically Catholic practice of investing relics and the like
with supernatural significance. Both arguments are asserted sever-
al times by Marx, each serving to show up the essential arbitrari-
ness of the other. Later attempts to explain the theology of Port
Royal, the philosophy of Descartes, or the physics of Newton in
tenus of similarities with the underlying economic structure are
equally arbitrary. Like the analogies between societies and orga-
nisms that flourished around the turn of the century, they belong
to the cabinet of horrors of scientific thought. Their common an-
cestor is the theory of "signs" that flourished in the century prior
to the scientific revolution inaugurated by Galileo - the idea that
there are natural, noncausal correspondences between different
parts of the universe. What Keith Thomas refers to as the "short-
lived union of science and magic" maintained a subterranean exis-
tence of which the doctrine of ideology, in one of its versions, has
been one manifestation.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Introduction. There are many books that contain discussions of Marx's
theory of ideology. The only ones that can be fully recommended are
Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory (Cambridge University Press.
1981). and chapter 5 of G. A. Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History (Ox-
ford University Press. 1978). There are also many books that discuss the
relation between Marx and Freud; to my knowledge. none of them can be
recommended. For valuable discussions of cold cognitive mechanisms.
see D. Kahneman. P. Slovic and A. Tversky (eds.), Jud9ment under Uncer·
tainty (Cambridge University Press. 1982). and R. Nisbett and 1. Ross,
Human Inference: Strate9ies and Shortcomin9s of Social Jud9ment (Prentice-
Hall. 1981). Good accounts of hot cognitive distortions include 1. Fes-
tinger. A Theory of C09nitive Dissonance (Stanford University Press. 1957),
and D. Pears. Motivated Irrationality (Oxford University Press. 1984). A
good introduction to (non-Marxist) sociology of knowledge is in Robert
Merton's Social Theory and Social Structure (Free Press. 1968).
Political ideolo9ies. Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (Anchor
Books. 1969) and the notebooks from his American journey, Voyages en
184
Bibliography
Sicile et aux Etats-Unis (Gallimard, 1957), anticipate many of Marx's views
and remain passionately interesting. A useful account of ideological strug-
gles during the French revolution is P. Higonnet, Class, Ideol09Y, and the
Ri9hts of Nobles durin9 the French Revolution (Oxford University Press,
1981). Paul Veyne, Le Pain et Ie Cirque (Editions du Seuil, 1976), is an
immensely stimulating application of Festinger's work to political ide-
ologies in classical antiquity.
Economic thou9ht as ideolo9Y. For the idea of a withering away of social
science in communism, see Cohen, Marx's Theory of History, app. 2. For
the local-global fallacy, see my Logic and Society (Wiley, 1978), chap. 5.
Reli9ion as ideol09Y. A good introduction to Feuerbach's thought is M.
Wartofsky, Feuerhach (Cambridge University Press, 1977). Max Weber's
views on religion and capitalism are set out in The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism (Scribner, 1958). E. P. Thompson's argument is found
in chapter 14 of The Makin9 of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1968).
For the problem of believing at will, see my Ulysses and the Sirens (Cam-
bridge University Press, 1979), chap. 2, sec. 3. Marxist treatments of Port
Royal. Descartes, and Newton are found in, respectively, L. Goldmann, Le
Dieu Cache (Gallimard, 1954); F. Borkenau, Die Ubergang vomfeudalen zum
burgerlichen Welthild (Alcan, 1934); and B. Hessen, "The social and eco-
nomic roots of Newton's Principia," in N. Bukharin (ed.), Science at the
Cross Roads (Kniga, 1931), pp. 147-212. The theory and practice of signs
is discussed in K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin,
1973).
185
10
WHAT IS LIVING AND WHAT IS
DEAD IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF
MARX?
INTRODUCTION
T
HE title of this chapter is adapted from Benedetto Croce's
book, What Is Livin9 and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel?
There is little new in it, compared to the preceding chapters. Its
task is to dot the i's and cross the fs, so as to provide the reader
with a convenient summary. In order to avoid ending on an anti-
climactic note, I reverse the order of the title. I first consider the
elements of Marx's thought that in my opinion are dead, including
some that are artificially kept alive and ought to be buried. I con-
clude by discussing elements that I consider to be alive, including
some that are widely believed to be dead and hence in need of
resurrection.
There are several grounds on which one can argue a theory to be
dead. First, it may be inapplicable today, even though correct
when first stated. Because society changes, statements that were
true a hundred years ago may be false today. Second, the theory
may have been false even when originally fonnulated, although by
no fault of its author. If his theory was the best that could be stated
given the data or the analytical techniques available at the time,
one should not blame him if it is superseded in the light of later
developments. Third, the theory may have been false at the time of
inception, in the light of the available data and techniques. A
special case is when the theory can be shown to be false on purely
logical grounds, prior to the inspection of data. In the evaluation of
Marx's theories carried out here, all of these criteria are invoked.
Sometimes more than one of them applies to a given theory. It
would be pointlessly pedantic to spell out in each particular case
what criteria are being used in what combination, but the reader
should keep the distinction in mind.
186
Introduction
To illustrate the distinction, consider three cases. It can be ar-
gued that mid-nineteenth-century Europe was historically unique
in several respects. It realized the pure concept of property, as full
and exclusive jus uti et abuti, whereas at all earlier and later times
the property of a thing has been conceived as a bundle of rights
(and obligations) that could be and usually was split among sever-
al persons. It allowed for a maximum of separation between the
economic and the political spheres, as a distinction among differ-
ent sets of people, whereas in earlier and later societies the distinc-
tion has been one among roles or even aspects of roles. It brought
class struggle to the forefront as the main determinant of social
conflict, whereas at earlier and later times issues of cultural identi-
ty - race, nation, gender, language, religion - have been no less
important. It approximated to a high degree the pure model of a
competitive market economy, whereas in earlier and later modes
of production cartels, monopolies, and state intervention have
been much more prominent. These statements, which I believe to
be at least roughly true, suggest that Marx sometimes erred be-
cause he did not recognize what an exceptional society he was
observing. Much of what he said may have been approximately
true at the time, but the backward and forward extensions were
frequently less successful.
Next, consider Marx as an economic historian. We know today
that his views on the Asiatic mode of production, shared by many
of his contemporaries, rested on inadequate information, although
probably the best available at the time. We are in a much better
position than he was to assess technological change during the
Middle Ages, and as a result we can discard his views that essen-
tially no innovation occurred from late antiquity until the modem
age. We know that his views about the relation between the eigh-
teenth-century British enclosures and the supply of labor to indus-
try, though shared by all economic historians until recently, are in
fact false. The enclosures, far from being labor-saving, were labor-
using; the industrial work force grew out of a general population
increase. We can hardly blame Marx for not considering monopo-
ly behavior as a possible explanation of the employers' interest in a
reduction of the working day, because the analytical tools for the
study of monopoly did not exist at his time. All of these are exam-
187
What Is Living and What Is Dead?
pies of what, in the above classification, corresponds to the second
kind of mistakes: Marx was wrong, but it is hard to see how he
could have done much better.
The third kind of mistakes are the most disturbing, in that they
reflect upon the quality of Marx's judgment. There is some dishon-
esty in his handling of empirical evidence, as when Marx updates
British economic statistics when it suits him but retains the older
figures when they support his case. Certainly there is no trace in
his writings of the scholarly practice known as playing the devil's
advocate. There are strong elements of wishful thinking, which, if
morally less deplorable than dishonesty, probably had a more de-
structive impact on the quality of his work. Moreover, there are
many examples of prejudice, as in his attitude toward Napoleon III
or Lord Palmerston. Finally, his economic theories abound with
purely logical mistakes. The labor theory of value and the theory of
the falling rate of profit are very poor specimens of deductive
reasoning.
Against all this, we need to remind ourselves that although
Marx's passion often clouded his judgment it also sustained his
sometimes superhuman efforts and his genuinely great achieve-
ments. On the one hand, motivation and good judgment both
contribute to success; on the other hand, motivation easily sub-
verts judgment. To wish for the first effect of motivation without
the second may be to ask for the impossible. Beliefs born of pas-
sion serve passion badly, but if lack of passion is a condition for
impartial judgment, as some recent psychological findings suggest,
the price may be higher than we want to pay.
WHAT IS DEAD?
1. Scientific socialism is dead. There is no way in which a political
theory can dispense with values and rely instead on the laws of
history operating with iron necessity. There exists no intellectually
respectable argument for the view that history is subject to a pro-
gressive pattern that can be detected in the past and extrapolated
into the future. To disprove this view, it is sufficient to point to the
possibility of a nuclear war, leading to the extinction of mankind.
188
What Is Dead?
How could historical materialism offer an a priori refutation of this
possibility? Moreover, there is no reason to expect history to have
the property of homeorhesis, or dynamic stability. Think of a ball
rolling down the bottom of a valley. The process is dynamically
stable, because if the ball is pushed off course and sent up the
hillside it will sooner or later return to the bottom again - unless
the push is a very strong one, so that the ball is sent over into the
adjoining valley. A nuclear war would certainly be a very strong
push. Without dynamic stability, however, even small pushes
could change the course of history.
A special case is "the role of the individual in history." Any
deterministic macrohistorical theory must deny that the actions of
a single individual can influence history in a significant way, but
denial is not enough; an argument is also required. None has been
forthcoming. Tolstoy'S mathematical analogy in War and Peace,
that individuals are like infinitesimally small magnitudes whose
actions are aggregated into history by a process akin to mathe-
matical integration, is very much in the spirit of scientific so-
cialism. It is also very misleading, because social interaction is not
an additive process. The action of one individual can make a small
or a large difference to the outcome, depending on his place in the
network of social relations.
Scientific socialism is also flawed in its treatment of values. The
horns of the dilemma are well known. Either the laws of history
operate with such iron necessity that political action is superfluous
- communism will somehow come about "by itself' without
propaganda, leadership, or mass action - or, if this view is dis-
carded, as it must be, political action must be guided by values.
One might think that communism, though ultimately inevitable, is
also undesirable and therefore try to stave it off for as long as
possible. If one thinks communism is desirable, value problems
may also arise. To say, with Marx, that the role of action is to
"shorten and lessen the birth pangs" is to beg the question, for
what if the choice is between a short, violent delivery and a long,
more peaceful one? In that case, what are the principles that allow
one to choose between different courses of action? Are they purely
utilitarian ones, or are they to some extent also constrained by
189
What Is Livin9 and What Is Dead?
individual rights? Uncertainty and moral responsibility are part
and parcel of political action. To deny that they are testifies to
intellectual hubris and moral blindness.
2. Dialectical materialism is dead. This doctrine, like scientific
socialism, is mainly associated with Engels, but it is also a minor
strand in Marx's thought. In the first place, there is no coherent
and interesting sense in which any of the central views in Marxism
are "materialist." No Marxist philosopher has offered any useful
insights on the problems of philosophical materialism, such as the
mind-body problem, the sense-data problem, and the like. And
even if Marxism had a specific, well-defined, and well-defended
version of philosophical materialism, it would bear no interesting
relation to historical materialism. In vague and general terms, both
doctrines can be summarized in the statement, "Being determines
consciousness." As soon, however, as one attempts to make the
statement more precise, the similarity disappears. According to
historical materialism, ideas are both separate from and capable of
having a causal impact on the economic structure; no similar
statement would hold for any form of philosophical materialism.
In the second place, the form of dialectics codified in dialectical
materialism is Quite trivial. Sometimes it amounts to little more
than a statement of the general interconnections among all things,
and at other times it is used as a fancy phrasl for feedback pro-
cesses. The "laws of dialectics" stated by Engels are somewhat less
vacuous, although far from laws in the ordinary sense of the term.
They can serve as useful reminders that some natural and histor-
ical processes are irreversible, nonlinear, and even discontinuous.
"Mechanical materialism," a phrase used as the antonym of di-
alectical materialism, might then be defined as the view (or im-
plicit assumption) that all processes are reversible and linear, ex-
cept that the term "materialism" does not serve any useful
purpose here.
3. Teleology and functionalism are dead. In Marx's thought, a
teleological philosophy of history became wedded, in an appar-
ently paradoxical way, to scientific socialism. The paradox is that
teleology explains everything by backward connections, from the
end to be realized to the means that realize it, whereas science
proceeds by forward connections from cause to effect. In the the-
190
What Is Dead?
ological tradition that fonns the backdrop to Marx's thinking, the
paradox is readily acknowledged. As Leibniz wrote, "There are
two realms, that of efficient causes and that of final causes, and
each is sufficient to explain everything in detail, as if the other did
not exist." When God created the universe, he set up the causal
chain that would best realize his goal. so that each link in the chain
can be explained both as the effect of its predecessor in the chain
and as being part of an optimal chain.
This reconciliation of teleology and causality presupposes the-
ological premises and, in particular, the existence of a divine sub-
ject. For Leibniz, history had a goal and a creator. These two, of
course, go together. Hegel has been praised for seeing that history
is a process without a subject. Yet he also retained, disastrously,
the idea that history has a goal, as if the concept of a goal had a
meaning apart from a subject for whom it is a goal. This Hegelian
vision retained a strong grip on Marx's thinking, at least in many
of his writings. The main exception is The German Ideology, which
espouses a robustly antiteleological view. In the major economic
writings, he reverted to the Hegelianism of his early youth, arguing
that the immanent purpose of history was to carry mankind
through the Purgatory of alienation and class conflict toward com-
munism, because full unity could not be achieved in any other
way than by a temporary loss of unity. This is individual ra-
tionality writ large, as if Humanity were a supraindividual actor
with the capacity to defer gratification.
Another supraindividual entity mysteriously endowed with
powers to act is Capital. The numerous instances of functional
explanation in Marx's writings usually take the fonn of arguing that
some institution or behavioral pattern works to the benefit of
capital and then simply assuming that these benefits provide a
sufficient explanation for its presence. Examples include the expla-
nations of social mobility, physiocrat doctrines, labor-saving tech-
nical change, state power, the British Ten Hours Bill, and the
prevalence of crime under capitalism. (The last-mentioned ac-
count, in Theories of Surplus-Value, is offered as a parody of Man-
deville's "private vices, public benefits" and is not in itself evidence
for a tendency to rely on unsupported functional explanation. Yet
later Marxist criminologists have taken it seriously and written
191
What Is Living and What Is Dead?
about the benefits of crime against property to the property-owning
class.)
The point is not that these accounts are necessarily false but that
Marx does not provide us with any reasons for thinking that they
are true. There exist forms of functional explanation that do not
rely simply on the presence of benefits but either specify a mecha-
nism by which the benefits maintain their causes or provide law-
like statements that, even in the absence of knowledge of the
mechanism, could be used to back the explanation. Marx and
most of his followers have not, unfortunately, felt any need or
obligation to justify their use of functional explanation.
4. Marxian economic theory is dead, with one important excep-
tion: the theory of technical change. (This exception is discussed in
the section "What Is Living?") The labor theory of value is intel-
lectually bankrupt. The very concept of the labor content of a
commodity is ill defined in the presence of heterogeneous labor or
heterogeneous work tasks. Even assuming that the concept could
be defined, it has no useful role to perform. The equilibrium prices
and rate of profit can be determined without invoking labor val-
ues. If any connection obtains, it is rather the other way around:
Prices must be known before we can deduce labor values. The
labor theory of value does not provide a useful criterion for the
choice of socially desirable techniques, nor does it explain the
actual choice of technique under capitalism. It vitiates the other-
wise important theory of fetishism and detracts from the otherwise
effective criticism of vulgar economy. Nor does the labor theory of
value offer any useful insights into the possibility of stable ex-
change rates and of surplus.
The other main pillar of Marxian economic theory, the theory
that the rate of profit tends to fall as a result oflabor-saving tech-
nical change, is equally untenable. Although superficially attrac-
tive because of its pleasingly "dialectical" appearance, it turns out
to have a number offatal flaws. Most importantly, Marx neglected
the fact that even labor-saving technical change has the indirect
effect of depreciating the value of constant capital, thereby coun-
teracting and possibly offsetting the tendency of the rate of profit to
fall. Moreover, Marx offers no argument for the view that tech-
192
What Is Dead?
nical change tends to be labor-saving. The other crisis theories
sketched by Marx are even less convincing. because they are not
even stated with sufficient precision to allow for evaluation or
refutation. The theory of the falling rate of profit passes this test: It
is falsifiable. and indeed false. contrary not just to intuition but to
truth as well.
5. The theory of productive forces and relations of production -
perhaps the most important part of historical materialism - is
dead. This obituary maybe more controversial than the others;
there is probably more room here for reasonable doubt. The main
objection to the view that property relations rise and fall according
to their tendency to promote or hinder the development of the
productive forces is that it has no microfoundations. Marx does
not explain how the tendency is translated into a social force.
sustained by the motivations of individual men. Moreover. the
view is inherently less plausible than an alternative account. ac-
cording to which property relations are determined by their ten-
dency to promote or hinder surplus maximization. Individuals
have a motive to maximize surplus; only Humanity. in its striving
toward communism. has a motive to maximize the rate of innova-
tion.
In addition to being unsupported and implausible. Marx's doc-
trine is inconsistent with what he actually writes about the various
historical modes of production. As he describes it. the transition
from slavery to feudalism did not go together with an increase in
the rate of innovation. His account of the transition from feudalism
to capitalism relies more on surplus maximization than on innova-
tion. His predictions for the transition to communism invoke the
suboptimal use of techniques under capitalism rather than their
suboptimal rate of change. One might almost say that the obituary
for the general theory. as stated in the 1859 preface to A Critique of
Political Economy. has already been written by Marx himself. for he
consistently refuses to adopt it in his own historical studies.
6. Other parts of Marx's theory can be declared neither unam-
biguously dead nor unambiguously well and alive. The theories of
alienation. exploitation. class. politics. and ideology are to some
extent vitiated by wishful thinking. functional explanation. and
193
What Is Living and What Is Dead?
sheer arbitrariness, but they also offer vital, even crucial insights.
Rather than discussing under separate headings what is dead and
what is alive, I consider these aspects together below.
WHAT IS LIVING?
1. The dialectical method, or at least one version of it, is certainly
alive. Not everything Marx learned from Hegel led him astray.
Although Hegel's Logic is among the most obscure books ever
written, The Phenomenology of Spirit is vastly more valuable, which
is not to say that it is easy reading. Marx was under the influence
of both. Sometimes he seems to espouse the doctrine of the Logic,
that the world is contradictory in the sense that two mutually
inconsistent statements can both be true. This view, frankly, is
nonsense. Other analyses seem to draw on the Phenomenology,
which offered an account ofreal contradictions that does not com-
mit one to this absurd view. What Marx refers to as social contra-
dictions correspond both to a certain type of logical fallacy ("the
fallacy of composition") and to the perverse mechanisms whereby
individually rational behavior generates collectively disastrous
outcomes. Before Keynes, he diagnosed an essential paradox of
capitalism in the fact that each employer wants his workers to
have low wages and those employed by all other capitalists to have
high wages. The theory of the falling rate of profit, though mathe-
matically unsound, rests on a structurally similar mechanism.
Against Adam Smith's view that the self-interest of the individual
and the collective interest of society need not conflict but that, on
the contrary, the latter can often be realized only through the
former, Marx was more impressed by negative unintended conse-
quences and by the self-defeating rationality of the Prisoner's
Dilemma.
2. The theory of alienation is living, as is, correlatively, Marx's
conception of the good life for man. By emphasizing the ideal of the
self-realization of the individual, Marx wanted to mark his distance
from two rival conceptions. First, the emphasis on the self-realiza-
tion of the individual excludes any conception that places the self-
realization of mankind at the center. Although Marx's commitment
to methodological individualism was intermittent at best, his eth-
194
What Is Living?
ical individualism was unwavering. He hailed the contributions to
science and culture made by class societies in general and by
capitalism in particular, but he also recognized that they were
achieved at the expense of lack of self-realization for the vast
majority. Second, the emphasis on the self-realization of the indi-
vidual excludes any conception of the good life as one of passive
consumption, however enjoyable. His was an Aristotelian concep-
tion of the good life for man, as one in which men bring to reality
their "species powers," that is, their creative potentialities. He did
not ask or answer the question of why men ought to develop their
species powers, but some responses can be suggested. Because of
the economies of scale involved in self-realization, it is inherently
more satisfactory than consumption. Also, self-realization allows
the development of self-respect, without which even consumption
loses most of its attractions. Finally, to the extent that self-realiza-
tion leads to more people engaging in creative activities, others will
benefit from what they create.
If properly modified and restricted, Marx's theory of self-realiza-
tion is a good guide to industrial reform and, more ambitiously, to
large-scale social and economic change. Some of the modifications
are the following. It will not turn out to be possible for everybody to
develop all their abilities, if only because this would prevent exploi-
tation of the economies of scale. Nor can one expect that everyone
will be able to find satisfaction in a restricted form of self-realization.
Because it is difficult to know what one's abilities will tum out to be,
there is always the risk that one may embark upon a mode of self-
realization that is either too easy or too difficult, leading to boredom
or frustration. Moreover, self-realization is demanding in that it
requires some delay of gratification; not everyone might be willing
to wait, especially as there is some uncertainty as to whether the
result will be worth the sacrifice. Finally, it is uncertain to what
extent complex industrial societies can be reorganized so as to allow
universal scope for self-realization.
3. The theory of exploitation is living, as is, correlatively, Marx's
conception of distributive justice. Although exploitation is not a
fundamental moral concept, as it would be if exploiting someone
ipso facto was doing something morally wrong, the theory pro-
vides a robust guide to what is right and wrong in a large number
195
What Is Living and What Is Dead?
of standard cases. These arise when people perform more labor
than is needed to produce the goods they consume, for any of the
following reasons: physical coercion, as in slavery and feudalism;
economic coercion, as when employers interfere with alternative
employment opportunities for workers; or economic necessity, as
when people, by no fault of their own, are forced to sell their labor
power. The underlying principle of distributive justice is "To each
according to his contribution," deviations from which can bejusti-
fied only on grounds of special needs. Neither the contribution
principle nor the principle whereby needs justify deviations from it
is clearly stated by Marx, although, again, they can serve as useful
first approximations.
To see why exploitation is not a fundamental moral concept,
consider two cases. Imagine first that current injustices have been
eliminated and that society can start from a clean slate, whatever
that means. (What it means would depend on which finer approx-
imation to distributive justice one adopts.) If under these condi-
tions some people save more than others, who prefer immediate
consumption over delayed consumption, and if the former offer
jobs to the latter that would involve exploiting them, on what
grounds could anyone object to such "capitalistic acts among con-
senting adults"? It would seem perverse to punish practices that
do not impose harm on anybody and that are the result of freely
undertaken, mutually beneficial contracts. Although some of the
arguments developed with respect to other "victimless crimes,"
such as gambling or prostitution, might sometimes apply here, one
can also think of circumstances in which they would not be rele-
vant. Second, imagine that the persons who own most of the
capital also have a very strong preference for consumption over
leisure, in which case one can construct cases in which the rich
will offer themselves out for hire to the poor, who do not want to
use even what little capital they have. Although strictly speaking
the poor would then exploit the rich, they would not be doing
anything morally wrong. Exploitation, when wrong, is wrong not
just because it is exploitation but because of some further features.
Hence, the concept of exploitation has mainly a descriptive and
heuristic function, which, in any actual inquiry into social in-
justice, can be a very important one.
196
What Is Living?
4. Marx's theory of technical change is definitely living. Some of
the most exciting chapters of Capital I are those in which Marx
dissects the relations among technology, profit, power, and prop-
erty rights at the level of the firm. When the capitalist confronts his
workers, he does not simply deal with a "factor of production"
that is to be combined optimally with other factors of production.
The workers have a capacity for individual and collective re-
sistance, which can be affected by the specific organization of the
work process, including the choice of technology. Because their
capacity for resistance affects the wage the capitalist has to pay the
workers, the effective cost of employing them is partly decided
within the firm, not only by outside market conditions. Hence, the
employer may have an incentive not to introduce new technology
if it goes together with a physical reorganization than enhances the
solidarity or bargaining power of the workers or if it involves
prohibitively high costs of supervision. (On the other hand - and
this is an aspect that Marx did not stress - the workers may have
an incentive to restrict their freedom of action, so that the cap-
italists will not be deterred from introducing new techniques that
allow scope for improvement for both parties.) This problem may
create a free-rider difficulty among the employers, if the solidarity-
enhancing effect of new technology occurs only if it is widely
adopted.
5. Marx's theory of class consciousness, class struggle, and pol-
itics is vibrantly alive, although it is generally recognized that it
does not provide the full answer to the questions that motivate its
construction. At the most general level, one would expect a theory
of classes to provide some flesh and blood for the abstract theory of
productive forces and relations of production. If this was Marx's
intention, he failed to carry it out. The latter theory fails, as noted,
precisely because Marx did not show how social classes and the
individuals who make them up would want to link their fate with
a new social arrangement just because it promises a higher rate of
innovation.
At another level, Marx believed that his theory of class offered
the key to the understanding of social conflict. He thOUght deeply
about the conditions under which members of a class were likely
to act in a concerted way, that is, to become collective actors in the
197
What Is Livin9 and What Is Dead?
arena of social conflict. He emphasized, among other things, spa-
tial isolation, high turnover rates, and cultural heterogeneity as
obstacles to class consciousness. He had, moreover, pioneering
insights into the nature of class conflict, class cooperation, and
class coalitions. Because members of different classes may have
common interests and common enemies, one cannot take it for
granted that the class struggle is one of implacable opposition, at
least not in the short or medium term. Today we would emphasize
more than Marx did that the class struggle is also blurred by the
presence of other, cross-cutting conflicts. There is no doubt that
class is one important source of social conflict in Northern Ireland,
South Africa, or Poland, but one would have to be very dogmatic
to assert that it is the only or the dominant element. Religious,
racial. and nationalistic sentiments have proved to be independent
focuses of loyalty and organization. Marxism is not really able to
come to grips with this fact, except by the somewhat desperate
measure of arguing that in the very long run, defined by the
emergence of a new mode of production, these cultural struggles
have little importance - a statement that seems both false and
somewhat irrelevant.
Finally, Marx wanted the class theory to provide an explanation
of political phenomena and in particular of the behavior of the
state in capitalist societies. The theory for which he is best known,
that the state is "nothing but" a tool for the collective class in-
terests of the capitalists, is one that he himself abandoned early on,
when it was disproved by the tum of events in the main European
countries around 1850. Instead, he proposed an "abdication theo-
ry" of the state, according to which the state is allowed to have
some autonomy but only because it suits the interests of the cap-
italists. A closer look at this theory, however, shows that the au-
tonomy granted to the aristocratic-feudal-bureaucratic govern-
ments in England, Germany, and France was quite substantial.
Indeed, it would not be a great exaggeration to say that in Marx's
historical writings, as opposed to his more theoretical pronounce-
ments, the autonomy of the modem state is a cornerstone. The
reason why Marx did not fully acknowledge this fact must be
sought partly in his reluctance to abandon his general theory of
history, in which the derivative nature of the political superstruc-
198
What Is Living?
ture was equally much of a cornerstone. In part it may also be
found in his insufficient grasp of the strategic nature of politics and
of the fact that a political system can assign power in ways that do
not correspond to the prepolitical resources of the actors. These
flaws should not, however, obscure Marx's insight that the state
depends structurally on the capitalist class. simply because its self-
interest compels it to take some account of the interest of that
class. How much account it must take is a strictly empirical matter,
which cannot be prejudged by appealing to the general statements
of historical materialism.
6. The theory of ideology is not particularly well and alive, but I
believe it can and should be resurrected. Of all Marxist doctrines,
this more than any other has been brought into disrepute by the
arbitrary procedures adopted. Sometimes functional explanation
has been the culprit. sometimes the even less intersubjectiveIy
valid method of looking for "similarities" between economic and
mental activities. The first step to remedy the situation must be to
draw upon the rich insights of cognitive psychology and its accu-
mulated evidence about the motivational and cognitive processes
that distort belief formation and preference formation. In fact,
there could potentially be a two-way influence. The Marxist tradi-
tion in the sociology of knowledge might be able to suggest some
specific hypotheses that could be tested by rigorous experimental
procedures. One might, for instance. try to specify in a testable
way the idea that the economic agents' perception of economic
causality depends on their location in the economic system. Simi-
larly, some forms of hot ideology formation, such as the motivated
preference for some economic theories rather than others. would
not seem to be outside the reach of experimental research. These
are proposals for the future. The immediate task is to achieve
recognition for the fact that the theory of ideology must have
microfoundations if it is to go beyond its present stage. which is
partly anecdotal. partly functionalist, partly conspiratorial. and
partly magical.
Above all. the sheer vitality of Marx's thinking makes it impossible
to think of him as anything but alive. His endless curiosity. vast
culture. burning commitment, and brilliant intellect combined to
199
What Is Living and What Is Dead?
create a mind with whom we can still communicate across the
century that has passed. Commitment, of course, is not a value in
itself; commitment to the wrong goals can be disastrous. Marx's
goals were generous and liberating: self-realization for the indi-
vidual, equality among individuals. His utopian attitude and lack
of intellectual control prevented him from carrying out the the-
oretical and practical tasks he had set for himself, but without
these qualities he would not even have tried. He suffered the cost;
we are the beneficiaries.
200

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© Jon Elster 1986
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CONTENTS

Preface
1. Overview

vii

Introduction MarK: Life and Writings MarK and Engels MarKism after Marx Editions of Marx's Writings Bibliography
2. Marxist Methodology Introduction Methodological Individualism Marxism and Rational Choice Functional Explanation in Marxism Dialectics Bibliography

1 1 5
11

12
17 19

21 21 22 25 31 34 39

3. Alienation Introduction Alienation: Lack of Self-realization Alienation: Lack of Autonomy Alienation: The Rule of Capital over Labor Fetishism Bibliography 4. Marxian Economics Introduction The Labor Theory of Value Reproduction. Accumulation. and Technical Change Crisis Theory Bibliography
v

41 41 43 49 54 56 58 60 60 63 70 74 78

Contents

5. Exploitation Introduction Exploitation, Freedom, and Force Exploitation in History Exploitation and Justice Bibliography

79 79 81 84

92
101 103 103 105 112 117 121 122 122 123 129 134 139 141 141 143 153 159 166 168 168 173 176 180 184 186 186 188 194

6. Historical Materialism
Introduction The Development of the Productive Forces Base and Superstructure The Stages of Historical Development Bibliography

7. Class Consciousness and Class Struggle Introduction The Concept of Class Class Consciousness Class Struggle Bibliography 8. Marx's Theory of Politics Introduction The Capitalist State Politics in the Transition to Capitalism Politics in the Transition to Communism Bibliography

9. The Marxist Critique of Ideology
Introduction Political Ideologies Economic Thought as Ideology Religion as Ideology Bibliography 10. What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Marx? Introduction What Is Dead? What Is Living? vi

I offer a discussion of alienation that goes substantially beyond what was found in the earlier book. in the first book. The present book is much shorter. A fuller development of the ideas sketched there is found in my "Self-realization in work and politics. It has virtually no exegetical discussions of the texts or of the views of other Marxist scholars. is published simultaneously with this book. about 25 percent of the first. organized along thematic lines corresponding to Chapters 2-9. With two exceptions. A companion volume of selected texts by Marx. The main intention is simply to state Marx's views and engage in an argument with them. I provide a brief bio-bibliographic survey that is not included in Making Sense of Marx. In Chapter 1. in some place and some form.PREFACE In 1985 I published a lengthy book on Marx. vii . there is little here that is not found. Making Sense of Marx (Cambridge University Press)." Social Philosophy and Policy (1986). In Chapter 3.

J .

in which. it always becomes the object of intense scrutiny in its own right. Many of them owe their resolution to mundane struggles of power. judged by the number of his self-avowed followers. This is not to say that all dogmatic controversies are decided on purely internal criteria of validity or consistency. he exerts a greater influence than any of the religious founders or any other political figures. One may go to Marx to understand the regimes that have been influenced by him. but not the other way around.I OVERVIEW INTRODUCTION NE hundred years after his death. however. or Buddhism. the former requires the latter. Although Engels and Lenin are the more frequently cited. Of these. but up to now it has shown few signs of waning.be it religious or political . Although textual considerations and rational assessment by themselves probably do not set constraints on the outcome. The student of political processes in contemporary communist societies will do well. we would not expect it to have the staying power of Islam.becomes an institutional force. When a doctrine . or to understand and assess his writings as if he had had no posterity whatever. 1 O . His doctrine being secular rather than timeless. therefore. purely textual arguments serve as one form of ammunition. It is not difficult to justify a continued interest in his writings. Marx provides the final touchstone. Marx is an enormous presence among us. because the proper interpretation may be a matter of momentous importance. Christianity. On purely quantitative criteria. to know the texts that form part of the arsenal of debate. they may in some cases tip the balance one way or the other. The interest may be extrinsic or intrinsic.

Overview The guiding interest in the present exposition is. They form. The operation of the first kind of bias is most evident in his views on communist society . Between the reality he observed and his writings. They make up approximately one thousand pages. in fact. He seems to have proceeded on two implicit assump2 . Some of them. For another. however. Marx's intellectual energy was not matched by a comparable level of intellectual discipline. though preserved for posterity.whether communism as he conceived it was at all possible. only two published writings that show us Marx at the height of his theoretical powers: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and the first volume of Capital. the bulk of the corpus consists of unpublished manuscripts and letters in a very uneven state of completion. purely intrinsic. are still unpublished. first in the formation of his thought and then in the way he chose to express it. the published writings are largely journalistic or agitatorial and as such are unreliable guides to his considered opinion. as it were. This will be taken to mean three things. Finally. For one thing. moreover. it is a matter of establishing what Marx thought. His intellectual profile is a complex blend of relentless search for truth. the problem of ascertaining what was written by Marx and what by Engels and whether the latter's writings can be used as evidence for Marx's views. including both discontinuous breaks and more gradual evolution. We have. to eliminate all ambiguities . so that no interpretation can claim to be based on all surviving texts. however. Even in his most carefully written works. In Marx's case the task presents unusual difficulties. there intervened at least two distorting prisms. of a corpus of perhaps thirty thousand. This task is subject to the usual principles of textual analysis: to understand each part in the light of the whole and when in doubt to choose the reading that makes the texts appear as plausible and as consistent as possible. They do not suffice. the fixed point from which the other writings may be surveyed and guide the choice between different readings. First.among other things because they are far from perfectly clear and consistent themselves. wishful thinking. and whether it would come about in the course of history. There is. and polemical intent. one must take account of the fact that Marx's thought changed over time.

The second kind of bias is most clearly seen in his political writings. not just at the trees. arising from the desire to use "the analysis of the situation" as a means to changing it.historical as well as theoretical . There is the bias of compromise. by and large it will appear that strictly speaking Marx was almost never "right. The range of issues covers normative as well as explanato3 . and to discuss whether the general conceptions underlying them can be useful even when his specific implementation is flawed. Which of Marx's theories are hopelessly dated or dead. I shall ask whether Marx was right in what he thought on the numerous issues . As in the somewhat similar case of Freud. class struggle. and which remain a source of new ideas and hypotheses? To answer this question we must look at the wood. and the bias of anticipated censorship. is to set out what I believe were Marx's views on the central issues before him. In particular. is whether Marx remains useful for us today. This examination will involve deliberate anachronism. I shall also have the occasion to point out that on various factual matters Marx has been proved wrong by more recent scholarship. whatever is desirable and feasible is inevitable. Next. yet remain immensely fertile in its overall conception. Yet there exist unmistakably Marxian theories of alienation. A more interesting question. The Marxian ancestry of a given line of inquiry may not be obvious and is certainly not proven by the claim of its practitioners to be among his descendants.Introduction tions: First. we may find that a theory can be shot through with errors of detail. It is in the nature of the case that such assessments must be somewhat vague. second. which operated when he had to disguise or tone down his views to be allowed to state them at all. technical change. to assess their validity in the light of the best knowledge available to us today. The organizing idea of the exposition.that he confronted. even have basic conceptual flaws. his generalizations reckless and sweeping. the bias of exhortation. in the sense that it will draw on facts and theories not available to Marx. and ideology that remain viable and vital. due to the need to reconcile different factions. however. the exposition of Marx's economic theories will use language developed much after his death. therefore." His facts were defective by the standards of modem scholarship. exploitation. In fact. whatever is desirable is feasible.

notably." Among intellectuals in Eastern Europe. some of them seeing in this a cause for praise and others for blame. "Marxism" is a dirty word. exploitation. including scientific socialism. but its implications for the understanding of Marx are somewhat unclear. by a Marxist. The emphasis on normative issues is probably the most distinctive and controversial feature of the exposition. Many would say. I take the view that Marxism includes both a specific conception of the good life and a specific notion of distributive justice. Can one be a Marxist today? The overriding goal of the exposition is to help the reader form an answer to this question. It is an attitude that commands great respect. Others have been refuted by history. then I am indeed a Marxist.Overview ry problems. and the utopian vision of a transparent communist society unconstrained by scarcity. then I am certainly not a Marxist. the labor theory of value." Many of Marx's most cherished doctrines have been totally demolished by argument. To them it signifies not the liberation but the oppression of man. For me this includes. True. and class struggle. the dialectical method and the theory of alienation. the work of Marx was one of 4 . in a suitably revised and generalized form. the unity of theory and practice in revolutionary struggle. What little remains can be and largely has been absorbed into mainstream social thought. which has shown us that the logical consequence of his political philosophy is an abhorrent social system. I have a well-rehearsed answer: "If. both on intellectual and on moral grounds. I would want to call myself a Marxist. you mean someone who holds all the beliefs that Marx himself thought were his most important ideas. Most other commentators affirm that Marx denied the existence of absolute values. or why. Each of these three arguments may be countered. But if. The view is encapsulated in Solzhenitsyn's refusal to meet Sartre in Moscow and memorably argued in Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism. the theory of the faIling rate of profit. that it is no longer possible to be a "Marxist. you mean someone who can trace the ancestry of his most important beliefs back to Marx. in addition to a theory of history and an analysis of capitalism. by a Marxist. with few exceptions. on intellectual grounds. To the question whether I am a Marxist.

for which purposes. asserting that it is roughly the kind of regime he wanted to bring about. finally. That assertion is manifestly false. concerned with establishing and explaining facts. that regime justifies itself through Marx. Their theories will. The following chronological survey of his writings is meant to facilitate the more systematic discussions in later chapters." The identity and survival of Marxism is linked. enter the mainstream of social science if they can also be useful to scholars who ask other questions. This I deny. if plausible. In the latter case its findings will enter the main body of the historical and social sciences and cease to be specifically "Marxist. MARX: LIFE AND WRITINGS Because of the great variety and diversity of Marx's writings. In arguing for their answers. Because of their adherence to specific. It is whether any attempt to bring about the kind of regime he wanted necessarily has to employ means that will in fact bring about something roughly similar to the Soviet regime. they have to follow the same canons of method and reasoning as other scholars. and for which public they were written. Yet the real question lies elsewhere. and if they cannot it is a good bet that they are not very plausible. to its normative foundation. however. that Marxism as a body of positive social theory. not universally shared values. Because of their values they look for different things to explain. Yet I shall also argue that an attempt to achieve the goal by means of a violent proletarian revolution will be self-defeating. ought to disappear if it is bad and also if it is any good. Only information about Marx's life directly relevant to the understanding of his work is included. The revolutionary bid for power can succeed only under conditions of backwardness that will also prevent.Life and Writings the causes that led to the Soviet regime. 5 . It would seem. it is often useful to know when. the flowering of the productive forces that Marx posed as a condition for communism as he understood it. but the logic of explanation is the same. on the other hand. It is not intended as a biographical sketch. not only initially but indefinitely. equally true. Marxist scholars ask different questions. under which circumstances.

His attitude toward the Slavonic peoples . Marx devoted a long summer to philosophical studies." The Hegelian imprint these years gave to his thinking never wore off completely. however." who were mainly concerned with the critique of religion. but Marx's anti-Semitism never took a virulent practical form. Much has been made of Marx's Jewish background and the alleged self-hatred that led him to espouse anti-Semitism. seeing the latter as the agent of their own emancipation. of man separated from other men and from the community. It is replete with overblown and obscure rhetoric as well as offending remarks about Judaism. but his father converted the whole family to Protestantism to escape discrimination against Jews. It remains of some interest." shows Marx from his worst side as a writer. Another. The work was first published in this century. like the Gods of Epicurus." 1843-1845: Paris and communism.his "Russophobia" . a commentary on §§261-313 of Hegel's work. without. although it is not equally apparent in all his writings. 1842-1843: Journalism and philosophy. the essay "On the Jewish Question.was in fact more deeply shaped by racism. which he characterizes as "the rights of egoistic man. however. Here he came to know the philosophy of Hegel and met a group of left-wing philosophers known as the "Young Hegelians. One fruit of this activity is The Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Marx grew up in the town of Trier in Prussian Rhineland. because it contains Marx's only statement on the rights of man. 1835-1841: University studies. During this period Marx worked as journalist and then as editor for the Cologne newspaper Rheinische Zeitung. Upon leaving schooL Marx studied briefly at the University of Bonn and then for five years in Berlin. a formerly liberal province now under a harshly oppressive regime. concerned with freedom of the press and protection of the poor. His articles show him to be a radical liberal. From late 1843 to early 1845 6 . There is something to the allegation. After the paper was suppressed by the government in early 1843. Both his parents descended from rabbinical families.Overview 1818-1835: Trier. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on "The Difference between the Philosophies of Nature in Democritus and Epicurus." an echo of which is found in the frequent references in later works to the trading nations who live "in the pores of society.

Critique of Critical Criticism. 1845-1848: Brussels. or. variously known as The Paris Manuscripts or Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. which had appeared the previous year.Life and Writings Marx lived in Paris. The theory of exploitation existed in an embryonic stage but was not fully worked out until many years later. In 1847 he published Misere de la Philosophie. He became a communist and in the article "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right: Introduction" stated his belief that the proletariat must emancipate itself and thereby the whole of society." By this time two of the three major pieces of Marx's doctrine were in place: the theory of alienation and historical materialism. first on a local and then on a European scale. Proudhon's Philosophie de la Misere. a reply to P. He remained active in politics. This masterpiece of political propaganda contains a sweeping historical overview and extravagant praise of the civilizing power of capitalism. published in London by the Communist League. A week later Marx arrived in Paris and left for Cologne in early April to become editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. which published 300 issues before it folded in May 1849. Marx makes fun of Proudhon's attempt to master the Hegelian dialectic and of his petty-bourgeois outlook. The Holy Family. Marx had been active among the emigre German politicians in Paris and. or at least as fully fledged as it ever came to be. published only in this century. 1848-1849: Revolution in Germany. concluding that "what the bourgeoisie produces. is its own gravediggers.-J. He also wrote a long critique of capitalism. Three important writings punctuate these years. The notion of the alienation of man under capitalism is the central theme. as a result of pressure from the Prussian government. On 26 February 1848 news of the revolution in Paris reached Brussels. In the heavily ironic style he had not yet discarded. had to leave Paris for Brussels. In 1848 Marx and Engels collaborated on The Communist Manifesto. In Paris he also began his lifelong friendship with Friedrich Engels and collaborated with him on an exuberantly juvenile refutation of the Young Hegelians. In 1845-6 he and Engels collaborated on the posthumously published German Ide0109Y. in which historical materialism emerged in full-fledged form. above all. In its pages Marx initially encouraged the 7 .

from 1884 to 1982. together with the contemporary articles on English politics. stem the counterrevolutionary tide. He could not. as well as their relation to one another. he also left active politics for fIfteen years. The road was long. Of the numerous manuscripts Marx produced in these years. 1857-1858: Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Okonomie. interrupted by a few brief visits abroad. This work corresponds to the fIrst and least interesting part of the Grundrisse. To help the reader orient himself in this wilderness.was fIrst published in Moscow in 1939-41 but was not available to Western scholars until the East German publication in 1953. I shall indicate the date of writing and of publication of these manuscripts. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte was published in 1852 and covers the whole period from 1848 to Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat in December 1851. In the short-lived Neue Rheinische Zeitung: Politischokonomische Revue. which were published by Engels in 1895 as The Class Stru99les in France. From August 1849 to his death Marx lived in London. only two . 1850-1852: The sociology of French politics. These writings remain our main source for the understanding of Marx's theory of the capitalist state. twisted. one in which his ideas can be studied in statu nascendi. he wrote a series of articles on French politics. When he was expelled from Germany in May 1849. Its place in the 8 . not counting emigre squabbles in London. It is perhaps the freshest and most engaging of all Marx's works. partly a wonderfully inspiring study of economic philosophy and economic history. thus beginning the economic studies that eventually led to the three volumes of Capital.000 printed pages . his policy took a leftward tum. however. and thorny.1. They cover the period from the outbreak of the February Revolution to August 1850.were published in his lifetime. In June 1850 Marx obtained a ticket to the Reading Room in the British Museum.Critique of Political Economy and Capital I .Overview German bourgeoisie to pursue the work of the democratic revolution. It is partly an impenetrable Hegelian thicket. 1859: A Critique of Political Economy. The publication of the others has been scattered over a century. This huge manuscript . but when they shied away from what in his view was their historical mission. 1850-1878: Economic studies and writin9s.

Marx assumes that his readers know Greek. the basic tenets of historical materialism. Marx's attempt to draw interesting conclusions from simple ac9 . It stands with Darwin's Origin of Species as the most influential book of the nineteenth century. The remaining notebooks were published in 1976-82. Considered as economic analysis it was not a lasting achievement. This enormous manuscript . Until the publication in 1926 of the first part of The German Ideology. which were often marred by heavy sarcasm. does not repay reading for anyone but Marx scholars. but contain also important substantive passages. entrepreneurial behavior. and class conflict in the age of classical capitalism. it is also and preeminently a book for the happy few. besides being thoroughly familiar with arcane matters of political economy. notebooks 6 through 15 were published by Karl Kautsky in 1906-8 as Theories of Surplus-Value. They are preliminary studies to the first and third volumes of Capital. This manuscript was published in Moscow in 1933 but was first made available to Western scholars in 1969. Of these. 1861-1863: Zur Kritik der politischen Okonomie. This work. that they are capable of recognizing remote allusions to literary and philosophical works. 1865-1878: Capital II. "Editions of Marx's Writings"). unlike the two other volumes. 1867: Capital l. Although Marx intended it to serve the cause of the working class. in the new scholarly edition of Marx's and Engels's collected works (see the section. It is carried by a white-burning indignation that is all the more effective for being more disciplined than in Marx's earlier works.300 printed pages . This book is beyond doubt and comparison Marx's most important work. and supplement them on some points. published by Engels in 1884.Life and Writings history of Marxism is due to the important preface where Marx summarized.2. They deal mainly with the history of economic thought. It was intended to serve as a bridge between the first and the second volumes of Capital. is with a few exceptions utterly boring and. Latin. in a single long paragraph.consists of twenty-one notebooks. but it remains unsurpassed as a study of technical change. and the major European languages. by one of them. these few sentences remained the only authoritative statement of the theory. 1865: Results of the Immediate Process of Production.

the followers of Proudhon. He guided from a distance the emerging working10 . an organization of European trade unions. the British foreign minister Lord Palmerston or Napoleon III.Overview counting principles was not successful. grouped around Mikhail Bakunin. The nonspecialist reader will not profit much from struggling with Marx's exposition of them. The chapters on economic history are among Marx's most important writings. although the gist of Marx's analysis can be stated in one page whereas he uses more than one hundred. which was in charge of dayto-day affairs between the annual congresses. as European correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. Marx played a leading. which anticipate modern input-output analysis. perhaps irreparably. the last years by the unsuccessful struggle against another. notably the articles on the British rule in India and the numerous articles on English politics. flawed. It must be added. The last years of Marx's life were marked by ill health. The chapters on value theory and crisis theory contain his most authoritative statements on these topics. role in the International Working Men's Association. Many of his contributions are small masterpieces of historical and political analysis. Marx wrote about five hundred articles. 1873-1883: Last years. In others one is more struck by his bias than his acumen. in fact dominating. is much more valuable. published by Engels in 1894. This work. The exceptions are the schemes of simple and extended reproduction. Its first years were marked by Marx's successful struggle against one anarchist faction. a postmortem on the revolutionary insurrection in 1871 known as the Paris Commune. He worked on the manuscripts for Capital but without much progress. To earn a living. 1852-1862: American journalism. The most important written work from this period is The Civil War in France. however. 1864-1875: Capital III. Marx penned the inaugural address and the provisional rules of the International and was elected to the General Council. a leading American newspaper of progressive persuasions. that the scholarly consensus today is that these theories are seriously. over a period of ten years. as when he touches upon one of his bites noires. which fonn a useful supplement to the writings on France. 1864-1872: The First International.

The polemical work Anti-Diihring.The Critique of the Gotha Program . Marxand-Engels. The present exposition is guided by the opposite principle: Only statements by Marx are used to argue that Marx held this or that view. of course. especially in the communist countries. He began the tradition of codifying Marx's thought into a total system that promises answers to all questions in philosophy. He had the best of personal reasons for taking an interest in Engels's work and occasionally referring to it. prolonged. and as far as we know did not object to it. but this does not warrant the view that he fully endorsed it. 11 . the natural sciences. its views can be imputed to him en bloc. a force of nature. somewhat pedantic writer. He took an interest in Russian history and society and corresponded with Russian socialists about the proper strategy for revolution in a backward country not yet permeated by capitalism. The argument is worthless. MARX AND ENGELS Friedrich Engels (1820-95) collaborated closely with Marx over a period of forty years. even stronger objections to imputing to him the views on historical materialism voiced by Engels after Marx's death. It is a fact of major tragicomical proportions that a third of mankind professes these naive. in particular. Marx was constitutionally incapable of arriving at his conclusions without deep.always seeking out the original sources and developing his own views only when he had thoroughly assimilated them. In the eyes of posterity. It is an attitude totally foreign to secondhand acceptance of ideas. amateurish speculations as its official philosophy. became immensely influential. Engels was a minor.on a document that was drawn up when the two socialist parties in Germany merged in 1875. and the social sciences. There are. prolific. they have merged into one entity.Marx and Engels class movement in Germany and wrote an important commentary . and independent study . especially the discussion of dialectics. It is often argued that because Marx read the manuscript to Anti-Diihring. Even scholars sometimes assume without much argument that statements by Engels can be used to support this or that interpretation of Marx. Marx was a genius.

Soviet Marxism and Western Marxism. have indulged in obscurantism. when workers of different countries took to arms against each other. and then divided into two separate currents. complex arguments of the former work with Engels's contemporary writings on similar topics. Similarly. on the other hand. In any case . if we compare the latter work with the rough draft. when the October Revolution made it evident that the carefully worked out compromise formulations did not provide any guide to hard political choices. Moreover. Although the Marxist movement has produced some great political leaders.there is no reason to believe that Marx did not identify himself fully with the views expressed in the two works. and irresponsibility. MARXISM AFTER MARX The development of Marx's doctrine after his death first followed the course of a mainstream. Politically as well as theoretically. Marxists in Western Europe. but on the whole it is difficult not to subscribe to Kolakowski's negative assessment of the development of Marxist doctrine.Overview It seems justified. to use the works written jointly by Marx and Engels .above all. the International was dominated by the German Socialist Party (SPD). The story of these developments is. There are nuances and exceptions. a depressing one. the Second International. the propensity of some political leaders to believe themselves great thinkers and their ability to impose this view on others have had a permanently stultifying effect on intellectuallife in the communist countries. we must conclude that the broad historical sweep and the most penetrating formulations are due to Marx.and this is what matters . there have been no outstanding thinkers after Marx. utopianism. The Second International was formed in 1889 as an association of (mainly European) socialist parties. by and large.as evidence for Marx's views. If we compare the powerful. The German Ideology and The Commu~ nisI Manifesto . it is difficult to believe that he had more than a small share of the responsibility. Although its official 12 . For all practical purposes it broke down in 1914. written by Engels alone. however. Whatever was left was destroyed a few years later.

because notions like "the dictatorship of the proletariat" belong to a lower stage of civilization. one simply does them." because the opposite view runs into the problem that "the educator must himself be educated. Between them they completed the process begun by Engels . Karl Kautsky." wrote a trade union leader. lack of falsifiability." The leading theoretician of SPD." A later historian referred to its strategy as "negative integration" and "revolutionary waiting. it was in reality a conservative. together with the Russian Georghi Plekhanov. was also the dominant thinker of the International. Marx had never developed a theory of organization. It is Marxism set in concrete. sometimes incoherent ideas of Marx down to size and order. essentially. The sociologist Robert Michels cited the SPD as evidence for what he baptized the "iron law of oligarchy. he insisted on a centralized and hierarchical organization of the workers ." To Lenin's mind. that revolution was unlikely. "one doesn't say these things. bureaucratic organization. notably Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg. It is characterized by shallow Hegelianism. superfluous. There were other trends and figures in the International. Although these views largely coincided with the practices of SPD." Left-wing critics. wanted the International to become genuinely revolutionary. naive scientism. and in any case undesirable.was in place. "Marxism-Leninism" .with the twin doctrines of historical materialism and dialectical materialism . because the socialist goals could be realized by nonviolent means. He asserted. The "organizational question" is central in their writings. and a strong preference for assertion over argument. except for the general remark that "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.what came to be known as 13 . With relentless pragmatism. oriented mainly toward its own survival and entrenchment. An early revolt against the pseudorevolutionary stance of the SPD was made by Eduard Bernstein around 1900.to cut the brilliant. this attitude was sheer romanticism. "Dear Ede. With some finishing touches added by Lenin. the party was embarrassed by his voicing them in public.Marxism after Marx image was that of the revolutionary spearhead of the working class. because capitalism was no longer prone to cyclical crises.

except in the natural sciences. and by a severe setback for the natural sciences. The crispness and freshness of her political writings strike one even today. It can be argued. It was accompanied by total destruction of philosophy. Indeed. that history has shown him right to a greater extent than he hoped for." Rosa Luxemburg. by suggesting that revolutions will occur only in the countries on the periphery of capitalism. and stubborn disregard of facts. The destruction of reason that took place under Stalin or during the Chinese Cultural Revolution had no precedent in history. Like Marx. he suffered from wishful thinking and lack of intellectual discipline. by near-total paralysis of the social sciences.precursor and heroine of May 1968 but with a more serious bent than the flower generation. An even more impressive thinker was Leon Trotsky. by virtue of its essential 14 . Luxemburg was also one of the best analytical minds of the Second International. and like Luxemburg. which enabled him to adapt Marx's theory ofrevolution to backward nations. notably in genetics. toward a working-class movement that was both spontaneous and revolu!ionary. She was the first great "activist" of the socialist movement . on the other hand. She is the only one of the great socialist leaders in the West to have been killed in revolutionary action. The further history of Marxism in the communist countries resembles that of any other "degenerating research programme. tortuous exegeses. The causal role of Marxism-Leninism in these developments remains unclear. ad hoc hypotheses to explain anomalies. but he also had a rare grasp of history and political sociology. The recovery is still incomplete or uncertain. although her more self-conscious theoretical efforts are distinctly forgettable." to use a phrase from Imre Lakatos. with the partial exception of logical theory. The rise of the pseudogeneticist Lysenko was probably due more to his proletarian background and to the immense faith in the power of science to bring rapid results that characterized the Soviet state in the first years than to any "dialectical" features of his views.Overview "democratic centralism. without spreading to the core countries. in Berlin after the end of World War I. The development of the theory took the form of Ptolemaic additions to save appearances. however. tried to work out the implications of Marx's views.

More durably influential. Max Horkheimer. Lukacs's career as a whole can be summarized as the abdication of reason or.two great unmaskers. with the publication of Marx's early manuscripts. and Theodor von Adorno. The work of Habermas is also somewhat impenetrable but more solidly founded in rational argument. This work anticipates in a quite remarkable way the Hegelian reinterpretation of Marx that was fully launched a few years later. however. the philosophical justification was mainly a ritual embellishment. reason in the service of dogma. Like Pascal with regard to religion. The political and intellectual irresponsibility of his work is matched only by the fascination that for a long time he exerted on other Western intellectuals. requires them to be lodged in the organism as a whole. In spite of many valuable insights in this and other works. as opposed to mechanical materialism. Whether the choice between these views was decided on scientific grounds or on political. French Marxism has been through two major phases. the central contemporary descendant is JGrgen Habermas. Lukacs was also influenced by the writings of Max Weber. and wouldbe liberators." Counted among its original members were Herbert Marcuse. of virtually any theory. in Kolakowski's phrase. by Hegelian obscurantism and thinly disguised elitism. they argued that in politics nil n'y a rien de si confOlme a la raison que ce desaveu de la raison. his interpretation of Marx's notion of alienation owes much to Weber's idea of the increasing rationalization of society. Much of the work of the early Frankfurt School is marred. others asserted that dialectical materialism. Most forms of Western Marxism can be characterized as attempts to create a synthesis of Marx and various other thinkers. in particular. debunkers. Theirs was a synthesis not of Marx and Weber but of Marx and Freud . however.Marxism after Marx vagueness dialectical materialism lends itself to the justification." Within the same intellectual orbit we may also mention figures like Karl Mannheim or Karl Korsch. was the "Frankfurt School. Its inception was marked by the publication of Georg Lukacs's History and Class Consciousness in 1923. Again the reader is referred to Kolakowski for a devastating review. Whereas some argued that dialectical materialism requires genes to have a specific material substrate. after the fact. The first 15 .

The second phase arose through the improbable and barren marriage of Marx with Ferdinand de Saussure. Marxian political economy. the theory of unequal exchange proposed by Aghiri Emmanuel. the founder of structural linguistics. Examples include the dependency theory of Andre Gunder Frank. The Hegelian aspects of Marxism certainly never took hold in England or in the United States. because I am referring to the tendency that has shaped the present exposition.owes less to existential philosophy than to French economic and political historians. It is somewhat inaccurate. The work of G. John Roemer. and social science is more promising . Cohen. English Marxism: Is there such a thing? Marx himself grew increasingly cross with his adopted country.Overview was dominated by Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. scientism again came to the forefront in Marxism.Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason . deploring the crude empiricism of the English and their lack of revolutionary fervor. after a generation of Marxists who had insisted that the categ~ries of natural science were inapplicable to the study of society. these writings are with few exceptions flawed by technical deficiencies and conceptual naivete. had stronger appeal. Though often suggestive. Because these writers do not in these respects compare unfavorably with. however. and Samir Amin's theory of accumulation on a world scale. finally. who added Husserl and Heidegger to the prisms through which Marx could be read. This has largely been concerned with extending Marx's notion of exploitation from the national to the international domain. Other recent Anglo-American work in Marxist philosophy. Joan Robinson's Accumulation of Capital from 1956 was perhaps the most important work in Marxist economic theory after Marx. to refer to this school as "existential Marxism. and others unites rigor and relevance in a way that has been sorely lacking in Marxism. say. Horkheimer or Althusser.at least in my opinion. although it turned out to create an orthodoxy of its own that has become a serious obstacle to progress. A." because the major work it produced . which did not much interest the Continental Marxists. this comment ought 16 . history. There is. the Marxism of the Third World countries. In the interpretation of Louis Althusser.

Editions of Marx's Writings
not to be taken as a slur on their Third World origin. The problem is that Marxism tends to attract thinkers who are either fascinated by the darkly Hegelian origins of the theory or - on the other extreme - urgently preoccupied with practical relevance. Often the extremes meet, in an unnerving combination of extremely abstract theory and highly specific proposals. What Marxism needs is the development of what Robert Merton called "theories of the middle range." For this purpose it may be necessary - indeed, in the present phase it is necessary - to think less about relevance in the short term, to become more relevant in the long term. When Marx went into his inner exile in the British Museum, he followed the strategy "One step backward, two steps forward," taking time off from politics to fashion a tool that could then be of use in politics. The theory he developed has done service for a century but is becoming increasingly irrelevant for most of our urgent problems. "Back to the British Museum!" is hardly a slogan with mass political appeal. but it is one that Marxists would do well to ponder.
EDITIONS OF MARX'S WRITINGS

In German and English, there are four editions of Marx's and Engels's collected works, none of them complete. There are also numerous editions of individual writings, a few of which are mentioned below. There are two different editions, each of them intended as the definitive scholarly edition, referred to as MarX-Engels Gesamt-Ausgabe (MEGA). The first MEGA was published between 1927 and 1935. Before it was stopped by Stalin's rise to power, it had transformed Marx scholarship and Marxist thought through the publication of The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and The German Ideology. The next edition, in chronological order, is the Marx-Engels Werke (MEW), published in East Berlin from 1956. It is the only edition that is approximately complete, but it is not a scholarly edition. Marx's writings in English and French are published in German translation. Many of the posthumous economic writings

17

Overview are not included here; some works also appear to have been excluded on ideological grounds. The editorial introductions and notes are heavily dogmatic but provide much useful information. An English translation of MEW has been in progress since the 1970s, as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works (CW). It appears to aim at completeness but not at scholarship; yet it is invaluable to Marx scholars because much of the English journalism here becomes easily accessible in the original language for the first time. Finally, the second MEGA has been unfolding since 1977 at a majestic pace and will not come to a halt until well into the next century. It has already brought us several major unpublished manuscripts, notably the previously unknown parts of the 1861-3 Critique. More preparatory manuscripts for Capital will follow. The scholarly apparatus is splendid, but the editors have not felt able to avoid the usual ideological rituals. The standard German editions of the three volumes of Capital are identical with volumes 23-5 of MEW. An English translation of the first volume appeared in 1886, authorized by Engels. All later editions have been reprinted of this translation, until a new translation by Ben Fowkes was published by Penguin in 1976. Being as reliable as the original translation and less encumbered by heavy Victorian prose, it ought eventually to replace it as the standard English reference. Yet for many years to come many will continue to read the three volumes in the edition published by International Publishers, as this is the one usually cited by English scholars. The 1953 German edition of the Grundrisse has now been superseded by the publication in the new MEGA. An English translation by Martin Nicolaus was published by Penguin in 1973. The standard German edition of the Theories of Surplus-Value used to be volumes 26.1-26.3 of the MEW, but these are also superseded by the new MEGA. The standard English translation is published by Lawrence and Wishart. The Results of the Immediate Process of Production is translated as an appendix to the Penguin edition of Capital I; an easily accessible German edition was published by Verlag Neue Kritik (Frankfurt) in 1969, itself a photographic reprint of the 1933 Moscow edition. 18

Bibli09raphy
There are many books entitled "Marx on or "Marx and Engels on collecting their writings and obiter dicta on various topics. There are also many selections of their writings from different periods: the early manuscripts, the American journalism, writings from the First International. and so on. There are various "Selected Writings" covering the corpus as a whole and there are, of course, many editions of most individual writings. It is impossible to list them all, and there is not much point in selecting a few. If one should be singled out, it is Saul Padover's edition of The Letters of Karl Marx, (Prentice-Hall. 1979), which usefully collects the most important correspondence. Besides providing valuable supplementary sources for the understanding of his theories, Marx's letters vividly convey his ebullient personality.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Introduction. By far the best guide to the Marxist universe is Leszek Kolakowski'S Main Currents of Marxism, 3 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1978). It is excellent on philosophy, superb on politics, but somewhat scanty on social theory, especially economics. Life and writinos. There is no first-rate, full-length biography or intellectual biography of Marx comparable to those of Rosa Luxemburg or Leon Trotsky cited below. An excellent short study is Isaiah Berlin's Karl Marx, 3d ed. (Oxford University Press, 1973). Maximilien Rubel's Karl Marx: Essai de Biooraphie Intellectuelle (Presses Universitaires de France, 1959) remains useful. A clear biographical presentation is David McLellan, Karl Marx: His Life and Thouoht (Macmillan, 1973). More ambitious, with deeper psychological understanding, is Jerrold Seigel, Marx's Fate: The Shape of a Life (Princeton University Press, 1978). On Marx's Jewishness, see Julius Carlebach, Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Judaism (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978) and Isaiah Berlin, "Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx, and the search for identity," in his Aoainst the Current (Viking Press, 1980). Two books on Marx as a politician are Oscar J. Hammen, The Red '48ers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Enoels (Scribner, 1969), and Henry Collins and Chimen Abramsky, Karl Marx and the British Labour Movement (Macmillan, 1965). Marx's relation to the anarchists is discussed in Pierre Ansart, Marx et I'Anarchisme (Presses Universitaires de France, 1969), and in Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980). An encyclopedic survey of Marx's stylistic repertoire is S. S. Prawer, Karl Marx and World Literature (Oxford University Press, 1978).

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Overview Marx and Engels. A work especially devoted to the relation between Marx and Engels is Norman Levine, The Tragic Deception: Marx contra Engels (Clio Books, 1975). A briefer treatment is that of Gan.:th Stedman Jones. "Engels and the history of Marxism," in Eric Hobsbawm (ed.), The History of Marxism (Harvester Press, 1982), 1:290-326. Marxism after Marx. The three volumes of Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism are indispensable. They can be usefully supplemented by volumes 3 to 5 of G. D. H. Cole's History of Socialist Thought (Macmillan. 1953-60). A good introduction to Soviet Marxism and its historical sources is Z. A. Jordan, The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism (Macmillan, 1967). It can be usefully supplemented by Loren Graham, Science and Philosophy in the Soviet Union (Knopf, 1972). A history of the SPD is Dieter Groh, Negative Integration und revolutionlirer Attentismus (Suhrkamp. 1973). Valuable studies of individual figures are J. P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg (Oxford University Press, 1966), and B. Knei-Paz. The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky (Oxford University Press, 1977). On the Frankfurt School. see Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination (Little. Brown, 1973). There is, to my knowledge, no good treatment of French Marxism. Editions of Marx's writings. A useful survey is that of Eric Hobsbawm, "The fortune of Marx's and Engels' writings," in E. Hobsbawm (ed.), History of Marxism, 1: 327-344.

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2 MARXIST METHODOLOGY

INTRODUCTION

M

ANY claims have been made for "the Marxist method." Some of them are justified, others are exaggerated, false, or unintelligible. Although Marx had valuable methodological insights that are not yet fully exhausted, there is no "dialectical reason" that separates Mandsts from ordinary mortals. On first exposure to Marxist writings, many feel mystified and terrorized by references to the "dialectical unity of opposites," the "revolutionary unity of theory and practice," and similar phrases. All too often, such locutions have allowed followers of Marx to get away with murder, sometimes literally so. It is against this background of extreme self-indulgence that I adopt what may look like an excessively purist viewpoint on methodology. Readers may tolerate suggestive ambiguity in a writer if on past performance they are willing to give him the benefit of doubt, but Marxism has long since exhausted its credit. The Marxist methodology that I want emphatically to reject is an amalgam of three elements. The first is methodological holism, the view that in social life there exist wholes or collectivities, statements about which cannot be reduced to statements about the member individuals. The second is functional explanation, the attempt to explain social phenomena in terms of their beneficial consequences for someone or something, even when no intention to bring about these consequences has been demonstrated. The third is dialectical deduction, a mode of thinking that is derived from Hegel's Logic and that does not lend itself to brief summary. Of these, the first two are also found, separately or in combination, in non-Marxist social science. Emile Durkheim, among oth21

Marxist Methodology

ers, insisted that, even were psychology to become a perfect science, there would remain some social facts it could not explain. Robert Merton has advocated explanation of institutions and behavioral patterns in terms of their "latent functions," that is, consequences that were neither intended by the agents who produce them nor perceived by those who benefit from them. Social anthropologists have proposed explanations that are both holistic and functional. When Marx employs the same method, he differs not only in the Hegelian element sometimes superimposed on it but also in the nature of the wholes and the benefits that enter into the explanation. Most importantly, he uses functional explanation not only to account for the stability of societies but also to demonstrate their inherent tendency to develop toward communism. Marx was very much a nineteenth-century figure, which is to say that in methodological matters he was a transitional figure. He had liberated himself from explicit theological assumptions, yet he retained the teleological outlook they had inspired. Like most of his contemporaries he was impressed by the progress of biology and wrongly thought that the study of society could profit from the study of organisms. (It is only fair to add, however, that he indulged much less in analogical inference from biology than, say, Auguste Comte or Herbert Spencer.) His scientism - the belief that there exist "laws of motion" for society that operate with "iron necessity" - rested on a naive extrapolation from the achievements of natural science. We shall find, over and over again, that dated methodological conceptions coexist, in his work, with strikingly fresh insights.
METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM

Methodological individualism is the view that all institutions, behavioral patterns, and social processes can in principle be explained in terms of individuals only: their actions, properties, and relations. It is a form of reductionism, which is to say that it enjoins us to explain complex phenomena in terms of their simpler components. Reductionism is a central strategy in science. It has created such disciplines as molecular biology and physical chemistry. The case of biology is especially interesting, because for a
22

Methodological Individualism
long time it was claimed to be inherently irreducible to physics or chemistry. A similar claim is still made today with respect to the social sciences. The counterclaim is not that there already exists a social psychology or psychological sociology that has effectuated a complete reduction. Rather, it is that there is no objection in principle to such a reduction being carried out, even though it may remain impracticable for the foreseeable future. One may add that with respect to some problems the "search for microfoundations" - another term for methodological individualism - has already yielded important results. A full reduction is possible in principle; a partial reduction is well under way. This is not the place to defend the doctrine of methodological individualism, beyond saying that our confidence in and understanding of an explanation is improved if we open "the black box" and get a look at the nuts and bolts, the cogs and wheels of the mechanism inside it. Some objections may in any case evaporate if a few things are made clear. First, the doctrine has no implications about the kind of individual-level explanation that is needed to carry out the reduction. In particular, the assumption that individuals are rational and selfish is not part of the doctrine, although compatible with it. Second, it does not assume that individuals are "atoms" that have a presocial existence before they come together to form society. Relations between individuals must be let in on the ground floor of social explanation. Third, it does not extend to what goes on inside peoples' heads. In the phrase "The United States fears the Soviet Union," the first collective noun is subject to reduction but not the second, because what the individual Americans fear may well be a nebulous collective entity. Lastly, adherence to methodological individualism should not blind one to the dangers of premature reductionism. An important example is the following. To understand successful collective action, such as a strike, we would ideally like to give an account in terms of the motives and beliefs of the participants. These proximate causes of the behavior are, however, usually very elusive. Often the remote causes are more tractable. We may, for instance, be able to establish a causal connection between, on the one hand, certain features of the group in question and, on the other hand, its propensity to strike. Other things being equal, a strike may be
23

Marx believed that capital had a logic of its own. workers. in any given case. although. In Marx there are two main instances of methodological holism. which was somehow prior in the explanatory order to market behavior and competition. is never made clear. and consumers. motivated by goals of their own. Marx was not a purely speCUlative social thinker. According to methodological individualism. Most of the time he was indeed concerned with forging links among individual motives. followed by a phase of conflict and alienation and culminating with a higher unity that retains the individuality developed in the second phase. which cannot be reduced to the several individual firms. on the other hand. In the analysis of capitalism. Marx does often point to the needs of these collective entities in order to explain events and institutions that appear as if by magic to fulfill them. In Hegel's and Marx's secular theology. and aggregate consequences. The principle of methodological individualism says only that the search is not inherently sterile. one should not go to the other extreme and view his references to Capital and Mankind as rhetorical devices with no explanatory relevance. We know that the effect of these remote "macrovariables" must be mediated by their impact on individual motives and beliefs. "Capital" appears as a collective entity. His belief in the independent logic of 24 . On the other hand.Marxist Methodology more likely the more similar the background of the members and the more stable the composition of the group. mankind had to alienate itself from itself in order to regain itself in an enriched form. any "laws of motion and self-regulation" of capitalism must be deduced as theorems from axioms specifying the motives and constraints of firms. Marx was strongly influenced by Hegel's tripartite division of history into an initial undifferentiated unity. individual behavior. In such cases the search for microfoundations may lead to barren speculation. it may well be pointless in the present state of knowledge. corresponding to his two central theoretical concerns. but we may be unable to specify the mechanism. "Humanity" appears as the collective subject whose flowering in communism is the final goal of history. In historical materialism. The point should not be overemphasized. Exactly how this is mediated by the actions of individuals.

or between nations is not a value in itself .) Marx was an individualist in this normative sense.they have value only to the extent that they are valued by individuals. This doctrine. but this is not. between classes. (And even then. only by the exploitation of the many could class societies create the free time in which a few could contribute to the progress of civilization. lived in misery. "Individualism" is a term with many connotations. in itself a source of value. shows Marx's mind operating in both registers. not just of a small elite. He appreciated that class societies in general and capitalism in particular had led to enormous advances in civilization. with dizzying transitions. It is never justified to ask people to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the fatherland or the proletariat . imposes constraints on any such view by stipulating that in the final analysis only individuals are morally relevant. Indeed. one may profess individualism in an ethical or normative sense. The advancement of knowledge. The Grundrisse.it is to be promoted only to the extent that it leads to greater equality between individuals. Some implications of this view are the following. MARXISM AND RATIONAL CHOICE That human behavior can be explained in terms of rational choice is becoming a central. though not in itself a substantive ethical view. perhaps even dominant view in the social 25 . or the protection of nature are not independent sources of value . as judged by the best achievements in art and science. often within the same work. to repeat. the justification may be dubious. who had. Quite independently of the issues just discussed.unless one can show that other concrete individuals benefit.Marxism and Rational Choice aggregates does sometimes weaken his motivation to study the fine grain of social structure and social change. of course. the creation of great works of art. Equality between the sexes. in particular. with more soundly based views. The attraction of communism in his eyes was to allow the self-realization of each and every individual. Speculative elements coexist. As a by-product there will also be an unprecedented flowering of mankind. for the most part. Yet this process was the selfrealization of Man rather than of individual men.

although the standard theory presents constraints and preferences as independent of each other. and they cannot act like lightning-fast calculating machines. Here are some of the qualifications that need to be added. It differs in this respect from evolutionary explanation in biology. they cannot fly in the air like birds. either can in fact be shaped by the other. Capital I was published in 1867. From the whole set of abstractly possible courses of action we first filter out those that do not satisfy the given logical. The full structure of rational-choice theory is more complex than one would glean from this stark statement. physical. Rational-choice explanation embodies a claim about the relation among action. Yet we may ask whether his theory is consistent with the basic assumptions of the rational-choice approach. The explanation of an action makes appeal to two successive filtering processes. it was born around 1870 when the marginalist revolution in economic theory allowed a precise formulation of the costs and benefits attached to alternative uses of scarce resources. economic. First.as later followers and opponents have claimed . it often happens that several people simultaneously try 26 . Third. Second. Human beings cannot have their cake and eat it too. or whether . Conversely.more paradoxically .Marxist Methodology sciences. they cannot spend more than they earn. The constraints are shaped by the preferences if the person decides ahead of time to eliminate certain options from the feasible set. Within the remaining set we appeal to some principle of selection that explains which action is finally realized. motives.to improve a bargaining position. which asserts that organisms end up having the features that are objectively best from the point of view of their fitness.the two are mutually incompatible. To act rationally is to choose the best action in the feasible set. so we would not expect Marx to have been exposed to these ideas. which one might do to avoid temptation or . or think is best. Rational-choice theory assumes that people will choose the course of action they prefer. it ought to be emphasized that the theory says that the person will choose the action which he thinks is best suited to his purposes. which is not to say that it is the best in a more objective sense. and beliefs. Broadly speaking. preferences are shaped by constraints if the person consciously or unconsciously adapts what he wants to what he can get. or mental constraints.

a rational ruling class would leave the exploited class with some freedom of choice. there is the sociological view that men are governed by social norms. (By a neologism. as it has somewhat unfortunately come to be known. roles. to say that the members of the ruling class make it their business to restrict the feasible set of the exploited class. A better name would have been the theory of interdependent decisions. so that nothing is left for the second filter to operate on. l Another class of alternatives proposes different mechanisms in the second filter. we may go back to the two filters. It will not do. There are two main contenders. They would argue that the constraints tend to be so strong as to eliminate all alternatives but one. as opposed to the "maximizing" assumption ofrational-choice theory. On the other hand. for example. It would restrict the set of alternatives up to the point where the element preferred within it by the members of the exploited class is also the one which the ruling class prefers within the unrestricted set. this "structuralist" view is implausible." 1 In any case. For workers in classical capitalism. or tradition. this view is known as the "satisficing" theory of choice. for instance. First. however.) The argument is that the costs of collecting and evaluating information. however. 27 . The view implies that behavior is less sensible to changes in the feasible set than one would expect on the rational-choice approach. This view may be plausible in some cases. because this statement assumes that the former class has the very freedom of choice it denies to the latter. the joint effect of the budget constraint and the calorie-protein constraint may have been to narrow the feasible consumption purchases to a very small set. make nonsense of the notion of "optimal behavior. On the one hand. It is hard to think of a general mechanism that would shape the constraints so as to leave the agents with exactly one option. only what in some sense is good enough. Value is attached to specific forms of behavior as such. not only to their outcomes.Marxism and Rational Choice to adjust rationally to each other. as well as the uncertainty surrounding the value of information. there is the view that people do not choose what is best. This belongs to the realm of game theory. Some would deny that there is more than one filter operating. to see what alternatives to rational-choice theory might look like. habit. I shall say more about game theory later. As a general theory.

In the long run nothing can be taken for constant or given. They are shaped and modified by social forces. because 28 . for the cause of the cause. everything must be explained from within or "endogenously. but this is not a rock-bottom explanation. it points to a real difficulty. rational-choice explanation offers a shallow understanding of behavior and must be supplemented by an account of how preferences and beliefs emerge from within the social structure." To discredit a theory it is not sufficient to adduce facts that count against it. like the Marxist. not explanation. The facts they invoke in their support are real enough." that is. There is a further response to rational-choice theory that does not quite coincide with any of these alternatives. It is always possible to search. If in my opinion they have not succeeded in dethroning rational-choice theory from its dominant position. it is because they lack robustness and predictive power. wants to understand long-term historical trends. better explanation. including deliberate manipulation. These theories offer what is sometimes called thick description. or the satisficing theory does not come up with an explanation of why people have different ideas of what is good enough. the mental tension that arises when what one values is also believed to be out of reach. As long as the sociological theory does not specify the limits within which behavior will remain unaffected by changes in the feasible set. True. In particular. they will not be able to claim superiority. action can be explained in terms of the preferences and beliefs of the actors. one must also produce another. The point might appear to be trivial. Yet." It is probably true to say that this is one of the main unresolved problems of the social sciences. but as is generally acknowledged by philosophers of science. The oppressed often end up accepting their state. "Facts don't kick. One cannot on each occasion go back to first causes. for someone who. beyond the cause of the phenomenon. we do know something about how beliefs and preferences are shaped by social structure. Motives and beliefs are not identical across individuals or stable over time. Hence. there is good evidence for the view that people adjust their desires or their beliefs so as to reduce "cognitive dissonance. It goes as follows: True.Marxist Methodology There is a good deal to each of these views.

and. envy. The result of all workers acting in an individually rational way is that the outcome is worse for all than it could have been had they been able to cooperate. This is not to say that we can observe each kind of interdependency in each case of social action. Marx often emphasizes that workers and capitalists are not agents in the full sense of the term: 29 . This is also often referred to as the free-rider problem. finally. I am among those who believe game theory offers a unifying conceptual framework for most of social science. moreover. the fact that the choice of each depends on the choices of all. the so-called Prisoner's Dilemma. first. nor. because they are similarly placed. The main source of Marxist resistance to rational-choice theory is the first. Yet we know little about the limits within which this mechanism operates and beyond which revolt becomes a real possibility. regardless of what others do. Rather than retell the anecdote that lent its name to the dilemma. through anticipation and strategic calculation. Tnen. the fact that the reward of each depends on the choices of all. for each worker it is always better to abstain. there is no point in a unilateral act of solidarity. which is one ofthe most intensively studied problems in contemporary social science. There is. Let us assume. "structuralist" objection. second. Hence the individual will not strike. the fact that the reward of each depends on the rewards of all. that the workers are solely motivated by personal material gains. third. through general social causality. and the like. Here I shall only spell out the structure of the most prominent among them. in that it enables us to understand three kinds of interdependencies that pervade social life. I promised to say a few words about game theory. not necessities. he or she can act as a free rider and get the wage rise without the risk and cost involved in striking. that it is better for all workers if all strike than if none do. Game theory has analyzed numerous forms of social interaction. will the others. If they do not. by altruism. Let us assume. They represent conceptual possibilities. Let us assume that each worker has the choice between two options: to join the strike or to abstain.Marxism and Rational Choice the alternative is too hard to live with. If they strike. I shall illustrate it by sticking to the example of strikes. because in the former case they can successfully press for a wage raise.

This argument fails because the notions of choice and force are not incompatible. the existence of choice cannot be removed by improving one of the options. workers have two options: barely surviving as independent peasants and barely surviving as workers. In the deep structure. the first option is the same. As consumers. The surface structure is merely the working out of the relations defined by the deep structure. In the former. under the pressure of competition. on the contrary. goods are characterized by their labor values . In Marx's economic theory the denial of choice is closely linked with the labor theory of value. In one. Workers are forced to sell their labor power. capitalists are forced by competition to act as they do. they engage in the very paradigm of choice behavior. I shall argue later that this theory of the relation between values and 30 . their choice between different consumption plans is restricted by low wages. including the inhumane practices of exploitation.not by coercion but by what Marx calls the force of circumstances. If they tried to behave differently. "economic character masks.Marxist Methodology free. Marx postulated that the economy had a surface structure and a deep structure. they must also have one in the second. A somewhat different argument establishes the reality of capitalist choice in a competitive market. as he put it. When capitalists. The surface structure is that of everyday economic life. survey alternative modes of action and go through extensive calculation to find the most profitable. they would be wiped out. The fact that they do not survive if they make the wrong choice does not mean that they do not make choices. In the latter case. the workers are forced to sell their labor power . But if they have a choice in the first situation. just as the visible appearance of a physical object is a mere consequence of its atomic structure. in which the economic agents make rational choices in terms of the market prices of goods. but the other is now to work for a wage that allows a good standard of living." condemned to act out the logic of the capitalist system.the amount of socially necessary labor time required to produce them. Similarly. In the other. Rather. they are mere placeholders or. Consider two situations. choice is presupposed. active choosers. the workers clearly have a choice between two options. and the idea that they have a free choice in the labor market is an ideological construction.

For something to be a proper object of functional explanation. for reasons that may be brought out by comparing it with other modes of scientific explanation. Marx. Again the intention occurs at an earlier time than the thing we want to explain by citing it. however. 31 . FUNCTIONAL EXPLANATION IN MARXISM Functional explanation is puzzling and controversial. of which rationalchoice explanation is the most important variety. Marx fully recognized the subtle interplay among entrepreneurial choice. is barely intelligible. we cite the intended consequences of the phenomenon. The most plausible solution to this puzzle is to deny that functional explanation can account for single events or processes. the essence and the appearance in economic life. The puzzle is how an event can be explained by another event that occurs at a later time. we cite the actual consequence of the phenomenon in order to account for it. There must be an explanation for the event when it happens .it cannot be necessary to await the consequences in order to explain it. in which events and institutions are explained on the grounds that they are better for some agent or agents but not necessarily on the grounds that they are chosen because they are better. explains upward social mobility by pointing to the economic benefits the capitalist class derives from having a steady stream of fresh recruits. it must be a pattern of similar. that in both cases there is one obstacle to a purely rational-choice interpretation of these texts. This is his tendency to deploy functional explanation. profit. Outside economic analysis proper Marx's structuralist method did not affect his concrete investigations. In causal explanation.Functional Explanation in Marxism prices. in preventing him from appreciating the centrality of choice and alternatives in economics. we account for a phenomenon by citing its (actual) cause. It certainly misled Marx. In the brilliant core chapters on economic sociology in Capital I. for instance. Let me give an example. In functional explanation. recurring events. technology. and power in the firm. His political sociology likewise was sensitive to rational and strategic thinking on the part of the main actors. In intentional explanation. assumed to have preceded it in time. I should add.

An example (again used only for the sake of illustration) in which they coincide follows. upward mobility at one point in time has consequences that lead to the continued presence of mobility at a later time. which mayor may not be the same as the group of people displaying the behavior. The pattern of explanation is similar to that of functional explanation in biology. Functional explanation is applicable when a pattern of behavior maintains itself through the consequences it generates.Marxist Methodology cited only for the sake of illustration and not because I believe the story it tells is true. however. or re-creating. The reason we observe these particular rules ofthumb rather than others is that they maximize the profit of the firm. more specifically. this pattern could be explained by the benefits provided to the capitalist class." In a competitive market. Hence. Moreover. If the satisficing theory of choice is correct. only the firms that happen to hit upon profit-maximizing rules of thumb will survive. Upward mobility in one generation contributes to the economic vitality and prosperity of capitalism. later event of the same kind. in which we explain the optimal adaptation of organisms by appealing to chance variation and natural selection. The example shows that functional explanation involves a feedback loop. as32 . firms do not and cannot consciously maximize profits. The opportunity and the desire for mobility come together in creating. We can then explain the observed behavior of firms by pointing to the beneficial consequences of their decision rules. Rather. actual mobility. they make decisions by following rules of thumb that appear to be "good enough. A prosperous system provides further opportunities for mobility in the next generation. through consequences that benefit some group. These two examples provide perfectly valid explanations. In the mobility example the agents and those whom they benefit are distinct groups. If in a given capitalist society we observe upward social mobility as a regular phenomenon. the others will go bankrupt. that capitalism is seen to deliver the goods provides it with legitimacy and channels individual aspirations into desires for mobility within the system rather than revolt against it. so that in each generation some workers become self-employed or small capitalists. a causal connection from the consequences of one event of the kind we are trying to explain to another. in the following way.

nonrecurrent events in tenns of their unintended consequences. If we grant. One important mode of Marxist explanation combines methodological holism and functional explanation by asserting that the behavior of a class can be explained by the beneficial consequences for the class members.Functional Explanation in Marxism suming the truth oftheir premises.be in their long-term interest. Consider the following explanation of why technical change tends to be labor-saving rather than capital-saving. This would require the exhibition of a mechanism by which the satisfaction of long-tenn interests generates or sustains the policies. In the absence of a demonstrated mechanism.be it for capitalist domination. then. We are. Any phenomenon can be shown to benefit a number of groups or interests. in many functional explanations . when realized. be purely accidental and hence nonexplanatory.the feedback loop is not demonstrated but only postulated or tacitly assumed. Labor-saving innovations are in the interest of Capital. are 33 . the benefits could.within and outside Marxism . The argument fails because it provides no reason why the individual capitalist firm should prefer this kind of innovation. for all we know. in Marx's philosophy of history we find explanations of singular. In the mobility example. that this is in fact the case. in fact. nor does he suggest any other mechanism that could support the explanation. The argument that collectively optimal outcomes. the suggested feedback loop is not proposed by Marx. Second. For instance. object so strongly to the use of functional explanation in Marxism? First. Why. This. is the major objection. in fact. especially if we are allowed to vary the time perspective. for the sake of argument. Marx argued that state policies not in the short-term interest of capitalists might . In a competitive industry. or in some other respect . dealing with an example of the free-rider problem. for social integration. a single finn is too small to affect the going wage rate and hence has no incentive to search for one kind of innovation rather than another. The mere fact that an activity has beneficial consequences . because they reduce the demand for labor and hence lower the wage that workers have to be paid.is not sufficient to explain it. An argument of this type rests on a metaphysical impossibility. we still have no explanation.precisely because of that fact .

This view is hardly intelligible. It has two closely related defects." Hegel used different language. one goes from one extreme to another. Rather. William Blake. classes. or nations may be a necessary condition for social change. these are not alternative conceptions but complementary ones. This preliminary remark suggests a distinction between a dialectical method and a dialectical process. On a certain conception of dialectics. therefore. or contradiction is a necessary condition for achieving certain results.Marxist Methodology realized because they are collectively optimal is one of the most frequent forms of functional explanation. expressed this view in two succinct phrases: "Without Contraries is no Progression" and "You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. the view that these are alternative conceptions. between dialectics as a feature of our thinking about the world and dialectics as a feature of the world itself. and I shall not discuss it here. an older contemporary of Hegel. retaining what is correct. Hegel apparently believed. respectively. We may then define the dialectical method as the view that in order to arrive at the truth of a matter one does not proceed by slowly and patiently refining earlier conceptions. discarding what is valuable in the old view along with what ought properly to be discarded. thesis. deleting what is wrong. Sometimes he characterized the three stages as. antagonism. Contradiction between ideas may be a condition for reaching truth. Let us consider. DIALECTICS "Dialectics" is a tenn that has been used with a number of meanings. at least some of the time. an- 34 . Common to almost all is the view that conflict. The dialectical method reflects the dialectical character of the world. In a third stage one may be able to achieve a more balanced view . that our views about the world have to be contradictory because the world itself contains contradictions. in that it lacks both microfoundations and an appropriate feedback mechanism. conflict among individuals. and adding what is missing.but only because one has passed through the extremes.

Even if Hegel wanted to advocate a special "dialectical logie. the negation of the first one. however. and negation of the negation. The community dominates the individual. It is certainly arguable that the direct passage from the first to the third stage is impossible. the flaws of both. there 35 . The next stage. negation of the position. restores commmunity without.Dialectics tithes is. Society. begins as a primitive. undifferentiated community. for instance. sharing. Consider. through a stage of doubt and despair. without distinctive character traits or different productive functions. occurs with the emergence of alienation (Hegel) or of class societies (Marx). to the reflective belief of the mature person. Dialectical processes in the world have similar stages. the development from the naive religious belief of the child. three-stage dialectical processes are less controversial. The most important example of a dialectical process in Hegel and Marx is probably the following three-step sequence. The third stage. or that it is likely to yield better results than other procedures. Even more plausibly. Persons are essentially similar to one another. therefore. To be valuable." what remains valuable in his view can be expressed in everyday language and logic. destroying individuality. who is left with little scope for free choice or individual self-realization. The Hegelian terms have a fine ring to them. It i!i in this respect the synthesis of the two previous stages. and when it does truth need not benefit. It is characterized by an extreme development of individuality and by an equally extreme disintegration of community. Intellectual development does not always proceed from one extreme to another. In other cases. and synthesis. it should not be understood as asserting that this three-stage process characterizes all thinking. In a different but essentially equivalent terminology he referred to them as position. they argued. however. his conception of political struggle and tactics. This vision had a very powerful grip on Marx's mind. It shaped his view of world history. his image of the communist society. It is related both to methodological holism and to functional explanation. however. the negation of the negation. but the phenomena they refer to are only the commonplace ones just described. briefly mentioned earlier.

consider the following propositions: 2. If we assert 1 and 3 simultaneously. indeed literally. it appears as a common although far from universal pattern.in thought or in reality . There is no "law" of the negation of the negation. first. another acceptance of the term "dialectics" in which it does offer exactly that. There is. nor does it yield substantive laws of historical development with definite predictions for concrete cases. John Smith does not believe that it rains. however. 1. but there are many less extreme cases of people entertaining beliefs from which a logical contradiction can be derived. we make a contradictory statement. how propositions 1 and 2 could ever obtain simultaneously. A cluster of vague. John Smith believes that it rains. 3. It is true that we do not often observe this extreme form of contradictory belief systems. why the study of a three-stage dialectical process is more likely than other intellectual developments to proceed in three dialectical stages. When people believed in the possibility of trisecting the angle by using only ruler 36 . This shows that a statement asserting the existence of contradictions is not itself contradictory. It involves taking seriously. the idea that the world contains contradictions. we make a statement to the effect that the world contains contradictions.Marxist Methodolo9Y is no going back from the third stage to the first. To see that this view does not also involve us in contradictions. It does not yield an operational method that can be applied with a promise of good results within well-defined boundaries. In any case I insist on the very limited interest of dialectics . but the concept has a certain value in directing our attention to problems we might otherwise have overlooked. If we regard these as the salient features of the negation of the negation. One might ask. it does not offer scientific tools with analytical cutting edges. John Smith believes that it does not rain. This observation naturally provokes three queries.as conceived in this manner. suggestive ideas. There is no real connection between negation of the negation as a feature of thought processes and negation of the negation as a feature of historical processes. that is. If we assert propositions 1 and 2 simultaneously. There is no reason.

by those whom we ourselves recognize. Each capitalist. To answer. whether the appeal to such contradictory beliefs helps us understand the world better or whether they are just a psycho-logical curiosity. Hegel's master-slave analysis in The Phenomenology of Spirit. One might then ask. yet he wants the workers employed by all other capitalists to have high wages. must come from someone who is worth recognizing. Let me begin with an example that was made famous by John Maynard Keynes but is already in Marx. such strivings play an important part in human behavior.or are very similar to Hegel's analysis have been applied in studies ranging from American negro slavery to pathological family interactions. The contradictory desire Hegel finds in the master is the desire for a unilateral recognition. because this is good for his profits. it is like transferring money from one pocket to another. I shift the ground not because I believe contradictory belief systems are trivial but because focusing on desires allows me to consider one of the best-known examples of dialectical reasoning in the history of thought. Although strange.although it took a lot of hard work by mathematicians to show that this was so. I shall give an example that involves contradictory desires rather than contradictory beliefs. in other words.Dialectics and compass. what all this has to do with Marx. Propositions 1 through 3 could also have been stated in terms of the desire for rain. hence. we must move from the psychological contradictions considered so far to the realm of social contradictions. they believed in something that involves a logical contradiction . The master wants to be recognized by the slave. To be recognized by someone whom we pay to lavish us with praise can at most give a fleeting satisfaction. What most of us value highly is recognition by competent others . but he does not want to recognize the slave in returt?-. not like receiving an additional income. let me change the example. This constellation of desires is contradictory because recognition. One might also ask. secondly. to be worth anything. wants to 37 . or rather an extremely simplified version of that analysis. thirdly. To answer. It is a central paradox of capitalism that each capitalist wants his workers to have low wages. Ideas that derive from . because this creates a demand for his products.

To see this. but any given firm will always see wage cuts as an attractive proposition. take a case where loss of export markets leads to a fall in the demand for cars and hence in the profits of the car industry. Marx was a pioneer in the study of social contradictions. This is not merely a logical paradox. consider only the second response. It would be better for all firms if all abstained from reducing wages. not of human design" (Adam Ferguson). we have a Prisoner's Dilemma. There is no possible world in which they could all see their desires satisfied. not everyone can occupy.Marxist MethodoloDY be in a position which. These firms will. Although the desire of each capitalist is internally consistent. At each stage in this process a firm. for purely logical reasons. the behavior of the firms is quite rational. The end result of this vicious circle can be a state of mass unemployment. When all firms face this situation. From their local point of view. so that the firm does behave rationally in cutting wages. (Henry Ford was wrong when he said that he had to pay his workers well because otherwise they could not afford to buy his cars. For simplicity. It slightly lowers the demand for its own product.) By the same token the wage cut also leads to a slightly lower demand for the products made by other firms. among others. many writers had been fascinated by the fact that history is "the result of human action. because part of the demand for their products comes from automobile workers. also impose lower wages. thereby hurting everybody else in the same way as they were themselves hurt by the car producers. With few exceptions. yet it also has consequences for other firms. achieves three things. in a similarly rational response. Automobile producers will often react by laying off workers or by cutting their wages. because part of that demand comes from the wages of workers employed in the firm. Adam Smith and Hegel. It is closely related to the recurring crises in the capitalist economy. their desires taken together are contradictory. It increases the profit margin on each product that it sells. which was later developed by. Yet in these writers there is no clear analysis of the structure of unintended consequences such 38 . the first effect will dominate the second. Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees is perhaps the first clear statement of this theme. by reducing wages. Before him.

The Rules of Sociological Method.it must create a surplus. This was his most important methodological achievement. 1967). In his hands it was transformed from a general Weltanschauung into a precision tool for the study of social change. A clear statement of this principle is in George Homans. Although some of the transitions make sense when seen as historical developments. In that work Hegel argued that the most general metaphysical categories are inherently unstable.). Analytical Foundations of Marxian Economics (Cambridge University Press. A classic statement of methodological holism is Emile Durkheim. Marx attempts to deduce the main economic categories from one another in a manner inspired by Hegel's procedure in The Science of Logic. This deduction is part of a longer chain: product-commodityexchange value-money-capital-labor.Bibliography as was provided by Marx. The need for microfoundations in Marxist economic theory is argued in John Roemer. In the Grundrisse and in the opening chapters of Capital I. Some of these concepts also stand in a historical relation to each other: subsistence production is historically prior to production for exchange. There are several useful discussions in May Brodbeck (ed. 39 . similarly. the purported dialectical connection is unintelligible. for instance. so universal that it is in fact empty and hence turns into its opposite. In addition to these two versions of Marxist dialectics . Readings in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Macmillan. nothing. which means that it becomes capital. a more recent exposition is Charles Taylor. which in turn is prior to production for profit. The Nature of Social Science (Harcourt. The notion of being. is apparently the most universal of all categories. to preserve itself. Money. Brace and World. must multiply itself .the theory of the negation of the negation and the theory of social contradictions . BIBLIOGRAPHY Methodological individualism. Concepts have no "logic of development" independently of the actions that men undertake for purposes of their own. Marx argues." Review of Metaphysics 25 (1971): 3-51. that the concept of money has an inherent tendency to develop into capital. 1968). "Interpretation and the sciences of man.there is what I referred to earlier as dialectical deduction.

Soctal Theory and Social Structure (Free Press. The Economic Approach to Human Behavior (Chicago University Press. "What is dialectics?" Mind 49 (1940): 403-26. Evolutionary Explanation in the Social Sciences (Row:man and Littlefield. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Macmillan. The interpretation sketched here is further elaborated in my Logic and Society (Wiley. For the distinction between the self-realization of Man and that of men. A. "Back from the brink of revolutionary-'feudal' totalitarianism. 2: 389-97. Brace and World. There are many good criticisms of the obscurantist aspects of dialectics. Edwards (ed.268-75. "Karl Marx's dialectic of labour. Martin's Press. 53-88. Mozingo (eds. pp. B. The place offunctional explanation in Marxist theory is discussed in G. RaifIa. Analytical Marxism (Cambridge University Press. Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford University Press. 1986). and the engineering of choice. Acton.).Marxist Methodology 1981). An introduction to "rational-choice Marxism" is John Roemer (ed. Constructing Social Theories (Harcourt. 1983). 1978) and Philippe van Parijs. 1981). 1978). "Bounded rationality." Philosophy and Public Affairs 3 (1974): 235-61." in P. Nee and D. An account of some political implications of Marxist functionalism is Tang Tsou. 1957)." in V. such as Karl Popper. Dialectics. and Arthur Stinchcombe. Cohen. The Unintended Consequences of Social Action (St. 40 . I do not know of any exposition of the "rational core" of dialectics that makes it appear both plausible and nontrivial. Functional explanation in Marxism. ambiguity. "Dialectical materialism. Games and Decisions (Wiley. 1976).). State and Society in Contemporary China (Cornell University Press.). Luce and H. 1968). Cohen. or H. 1968). An introduction to the basic concepts in rational-choice theory is R. D. A. A good introduction to the theory of "satisficing" is James March. 1979)." Bell Journal of Economics 9 (1978): 587-608. see G. Marxism and rational choice. Good expositions of functional explanation are Robert Merton. Arguments for the general applicability of the theory are found in Gary Becker. 1968). and Raymond Boudon.

it does not imply the sense of a lack of meaning. Alienation can be described. the various reasons why capitalism ought to be abolished also explain why it will be abolished. they enter into his normative assessment of what is wrong with capitalism and. Only the latter. in several senses of that term. Does alienation playa role in the explanation of the breakdown of capitalism? It is not clear that it does. or that it can do. The theory of class struggle accords the central place to exploitation. Consider the lack of self-realization. exploitation. On the other hand. what is desirable about communism. By and large. somewhat different emphases in the different parts of Marx's theory. As such. On the one hand. If it takes the form of an unsatisfied desire for self-realization. however. as the lack of a sense of meaning. These play two distinct roles in his theory. In the normative theory. very broadly. it could motivate people to create a society in which the desire could be satisfied. alienation is the most important concept. could provide a motivation for action. They receive. the two roles are related. they are part of his explanation of the breakdown of capitalism and the subsequent transition to communism. Clearly. The general theory of modes of production assigns the most important role to inefficiency in explaining why one mode is replaced by another.3 ALIENATION INTRODUCTION M ARX found three main flaws in capitalism: inefficiency. Marx valued communism above all because it would abolish alienation. The relation between these two explanatory theories will concern us later. and alienation. however. one of the main forms of alienation. assuming that they believe such a society to be feasi41 . as the other side of that coin.

at least not in the mature economic writings. alienation is the "negation" that mediates between primitive unity and differentiated unity in the history of mankind. cannot influence the course of history before a new social mode that can satisfy them (on a mass scale) has become objectively possible. although of Hegelian origin. Hegel believed that the creation of an organic community was a value in itself. elitist. Marx located the phenomenon of alienation in a similar historical stage but at the level of individuals. not of individual men. Neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt School have argued that the worst aspect of capitalism is that people do not even know that they are alienated. If. over and above what valuable consequences it 42 . it is because they have no desire for it. does not mean quite the same thing as Hegel's. it is a lack of unity and social integration. drawing a contrast between precapitalist societies in which men felt relatively content within a small circle of desires and the. Before that point. As such. When they indulge in passive mass consumption instead of actively striving for individual self-realization. To summarize: Actual needs Satisfied needs Satisfiable needs Adaptive preferences small small small Subjective alienation large small large Objective alienation large small small Utopian preferences large small small large large large Communism Marx's concept of alienation. however. capitalist mode of production that multiplies desires beyond the creation of means to satisfy them. people do not even have the desire. it is a feature of Man. as a result of the development of the productive forces. and pessimistic view was not held by Marx. however.Alienation ble. Consistently with his methodological holism. These desires. they are doomed to remain utopian. the fact that it could be satisfied in an alternative social organization has no explanatory power. This paternalist. This difference is related to the difference between Marx's ethical individualism and Hegel's ethical holism. In Hegel. it is not because opportunities for the latter are lacking. There he praised capitalism for creating rich needs that it cannot satisfy.

on the one hand. with certain natural talents and capacities and. The point is not simply that Marx neglects the need to choose between being a jack of all trades and a master of (at most) one. for Marx. More importantly. this way of implementing the ideal of selfrealization would defeat itself. it will be a life of self. Although it will be closely bound up with the life of the community. There will be no more painters. because it would not allow one to benefit from the increasing marginal utility that is a major reason for preferring this mode of activity over consumption. The motivation behind self-realization derives from this peculiarly intimate relation. Capitalism offers this opportunity to a few but denies it to the vast majority. rear cattle in the evening. on the other hand. and be critical critics after dinner. The person is endowed. first as the designer and then as the raw material ofthe process. The reason is that the "self" enters twice into the notion of self-realization. with a desire to develop some of them rather than others. it must be free. Under communism each and every individual will live a rich and active life. ALIENATION: LACK OF SELF-REALIZATION Marx believed that the good life for the individual was one of active self-realization. only people who among other things also paint. people will hunt in the morning. took opposed stances on the methodological and ethical issues. can be defined as the full and free actualization and externalization of the powers and abilities of the individual. It was one of Marx's more utopian ideas that under communism there will be no more specialized occupations. The freedom of self-realization cannot imply that a good society 43 . The ideal of self-realization is not compatible with society's coercing people to develop socially valuable talents at the expense of those they want to develop. fish in the afternoon.Lack of Self-realization might have for individual men. In a phrase from The German Ideology that has perhaps been taken more seriously than it was intended. This point is explained more fully later.realization. Self-realization. Consider first the fullness of self-realization. on the other hand. Even though self-realization cannot be full. Marx.

but it would still be their choice. Note that there can be self-actualization without selfextemalization. The development of the ability to appreciate music or wine is an example. If many people used this right to choose forms of self-realization that are very demanding of material resources. the freedom of self-realization would be as utopian as the fullness. the social account would not balance. the benefit. why is it 44 . The potential of a person who knows French perfectly but is currently conversing in English is only one step removed. the weaker notion of freedom as lack of coercion. Self-extemalization is the process whereby the powers of the individual become observable to other people. There are two complementary questions we need to ask about the ideal of self-realization. what are its attractions compared to that of other life styles? Second.Alienation will guarantee people the right to develop their preferred talents. First. On this interpretation. True. at two removes from actuality. without a corresponding number choosing to realize themselves in ways that contribute to the creation of resources. The first step is the development of a potential ability into an actual one. with the risks and benefits that implies. A more charitable reading suggests. Self-actualization involves a two-step process of transforming a potential into actuality. A person who knows no French has the potential to speak French. it may be decomposed into self-actualization and self-extemalization. the person makes the self part of the public domain. self-extemalization involves the transition from the Pleasure Principle to the Reality Principle. In Freudian language. The risk is that the self-image may be destroyed if it is not confirmed by others. Marx may be read as saying that communist society will be in a state of absolute abundance. People might have to choose second-best or third-best lines of self-realization if they cannot find the material resources for their preferred option. with no material scarcity to constrain self-realization. the second is the deployment of the ability. Consider now the notion of self-realization itself. not someone else's. that it may achieve substance and solidity if it is so confirmed. By acting and speaking in the presence of others. given those attractions. however. Corresponding to its two sources in Aristotle and Hegel.

Diversity. Another argument derives from self-externalization. it is the basic condition for deriving happiness and satisfaction from other sources. most people enjoy lamb chops the first time they eat them. in tum. Over time. because unlike the other activities they compete for scarce material resources. diversity is essential. on the other hand. Doing something that is esteemed by other people is the most important source of self-esteem. The first time one practices the piano it is difficult. these patterns are reversed. however. Two reasons for valuing self-realization derive from the two elements into which it was decomposed. One may reply on his behalf that only consumption and self-realization are proper objects of political philosophy. To derive sustained pleasure from consumption. is an obstacle to successful self-realization. although these do not exhaust all the possibilities. Because Marx does not consider these options. By contrast. The preceding argument appealed to the properties of self-actualization. as it prevents one from getting into the later and more rewarding stages.Lack of Self-realization not more frequently chosen over the alternatives? When suggesting answers to these questions I shall only compare self-realization and consumption. presupposes something that is not consumption.from doing or producing something that 45 . Although not in itself a source of happiness. Activities of self-realization are subject to increasing marginal utility: They become more enjoyable the more one has already engaged in them. Compare playing the piano with eating lamb chops. is what provides us with the motivation for going on with the business of living. one might object that his is an impoverished view of human nature. to be valuable. Playing the piano becomes increasingly more rewarding. Self-esteem. even painfully so. whereas the taste for lamb chops becomes satiated and jaded with repeated. Self-esteem can also be derived from self-externalization without self-actualization . frequent consumption. Because diversity also tends to be more expensive. Consumption. Exactly the opposite is true of consumption. this difference gives one reason for preferring self-realization over consumption. Some people devote their lives to friendship or to contemplation.

People often end up not wanting what they cannot get. Neither assembly line work nor supervision of control screens is particularly rewarding in itself. It is not easy in any industrial society to organize production in a way that combines efficiency with opportunities for individual self-realization. it is far from obvious that they would have much support. through participation in the decision-making processes of the finn. Individual firms. however. or the preindustrial artisan. why is it not more frequently chosen? The answer could be the lack of opportunity. even if the work itself is monotonous and boring. The evaluation must be performed by external observers according to independent. he did not really explain how there could be room for creative work in the modern factory. otherwise one would sink into a morass of subjectivity. presuppose a widespread desire for selfrealization.Alienation others esteem sufficiently to pay for it. Although he always insisted that there was no turning back from industrial production. except for some remarks about the increasing importance of science in production. There are. if owned and operated by the workers. however. What about the converse possibility? Self-actualization that remains inner and mute does not provide a durable satisfaction. the lack of desire. To some extent the lack of desire for self-realization may be explained by the lack of opportunities. If self-realization really has these advantages. If we look at contemporary Western societies. Economic democracy itself could provide an outlet for self-realization. The state could encourage innovations that would facilitate efficient small-scale production. We need to distinguish. The pleasures of self-actualization come not simply from using one's powers but from using them well. between the obstacles to selfrealization that stem from the nature of industrial production and those that derive from the capitalist organization of industry. In a socialist society the opportunities for self-realization might be multiplied. never knowing for sure whether one's achievements are real or spurious. however. more specific reasons for the resistance to the ideal of self46 . or both. Marx's models of self-realization are the artist. Such reforms. public criteria. could decide to organize production along lines more conducive to self-realization. the scientist. not the industrial worker. as in the fable of the fox and the grapes.

these attitudes would create the difficulties that I have described. abstractly speaking. People might believe that self-realization. the same attitudes would stand in the way for a reform movement to create a society with more opportunities." because he or she will be deterred by the shortterm sacrifice required.succeeding too easily. benefits the individual engaging in it. If they are risk-averse. as myopia. scientific. The individual benefits of any large-scale reform process are remote in time. It is difficult to know in advance exactly what gifts and talents one has. briefly. risk aversion. is a good thing and yet not feel personally motivated to engage in it. benefiting from the risk-taking efforts of others while playing it safe for himself. and free riding.Lack of Self-realization realization. In a society where there existed opportunities for self-realization. however. Self-realization. For most people. if the chosen vehicle is technical. Indeed. or artistic innovation. People might believe 47 . It also requires some willingness to take risks. benefit others. if successful. because there would then be more innovation from which they could all benefit. This poilUs to a possible free-rider problem. and free riding is a powerful force working against self-realization. frustration . This.trying and failing . Moreover. is exactly the pattern of self-realization. A given line of activity could turn out to be too easy and lead to boredom or too difficult and lead to frustration.is probably worse than boredom . Yet each individual would find it even better to be a free rider. A feature of selfrealization not mentioned so far is that it is surrounded by uncertainty. A myopic person has difficulties in carrying out plans with the pattern "One step backward. they will tend to choose the less ambitious vehicle for self-realization. surrounded by uncertainty. They can be summed up. just because it is present. which implies that on the average there will be less of it. It might be better for all risk-averse individuals if all behaved as if they were risk takers. It requires a measure of self-controL of willingness to endure the less rewarding stages of self-actualization. It may also. risk aversion. The combination of myopia. two steps fOlWard. however. Myopia is the tendency to prefer present welfare over future welfare. it works against it in two ways. and not dependent on individual participation.

competitive persons striving for their own personal self-realization at the expense of everything and everybody else. The bond of community arises from the knowledge that other people appreciate the activity or the product that is the vehicle of my self-realization. abstractly speaking. in the present sense of the term.Alienation that socialism. Marx placed almost exclusive emphasis on the lack of opportunities for self-realization in capitalism. he stressed one: self-realization for others. It could simply mean the absence of self-realization. It could mean the absence of opportunities for self-realization. He wanted to distinguish communism from what Hegel had called "the spiritual animal kingdom" a society of rampantly individualistic. and that I similarly enjoy the external manifestation of their self-realization. It is a community of consumerproducers. farsightedness and solidarity would be needed. Is the value of self-realization compatible with that of community? Are they not rather on a course of head-on collision? Marx was very concerned with this issue. which is implicit in the concept of self-externalization and is presupposed even in the most competitive forms of self-realization. a desire blocked by myopia. This reconciliation might be feasible in the small face-to-face communities of the past in which each producer knew his customers personally. Of the several ways in which self-realization and community can be reconciled. This is not a reference to the community of creator-observers. To overcome these obstacles. Alienation. with or without the desire for self-realization. It is not clear whether he thought communism would arise when and because this basis has been created and. or free riding . may be understood in several ways. Industrial societies. He also emphasized. if he did. Communism arises when this basis has been created. how the desire to overcome alienation is related to his other explanations of the breakdown of capitalism.with or without opportunities for self-realization.that is. risk aversion. however. It could mean the presence of an ineffective desire for self-realization . is a good thing and yet not feel any personal motivation to bring it about. that capitalism creates the material basis for another society in which the full and free self-realization of each and every individual becomes possible. however. are depersonalized in 48 .

He added. we see the point of a remark in the Communist Manifesto: The free development of each becomes the condition for the free development of all. On the other hand the realization of the desires is often frustrated by lack of coordination and common planning. however. The individuals are caught in the middle: between unintelligible psychological forces that shape their desires 49 . this might be due to the capitalist organization of industry rather than to the nature of industrial work. or joint self-realization. Again. In such interactions. the formation of the desires occurs through a process the individual does not understand and with which he does not identify. Often. production for a mass market breaks the personal bond between producer and consumer. at both ends. it is not clear that industrial production lends itself easily to this synthesis. The immediate appearance is that people act freely and rationally to promote their ends. also. The historical trend seems to suggest that integrated work processes and self-realization in work are competing goals rather than complementary. not as freely and jointly willed. a symphony orchestra. The idea that a person can have a feeling of community by knowing that he produces for "society" has no root in individual psychology. A more plausible way of reconciling the two values is through production with others. Capitalism. a football team. has expanded the realm of freedom by making the scope for choice much greater than in any earlier form of society. Again. whatever these might be. however. The assembly line achieves a maximum of integration with a minimum of self-realization. in particular. not as freely chosen. as it were. On the one hand. or decision making in direct economic democracy. Examples could be a small fishing vessel.Lack of Autonomy two ways that combine to render it implausible. The aggregate outcome of individual actions appears as an independent and even hostile power. his own desires appear to him as alien powers. Marx did not deny that freedom of choice in this sense is valuable. ALIENATION: LACK OF AUTONOMY Social action may be understood at many levels. that under capitalism it is twisted and subverted. The social nature of production makes it impossible for any individual to point to any product as his.

Alienation and equally opaque social forces that thwart them. Capitalism creates an incentive for producers to seduce consumers. "subintentional.as opposed to the desire for self-realization . justly object to compulsive desires if understood as desires with which the individual does not identify and which lead him to act in ways he does not understand and that give him no pleasure. Individual psychology and social causality will become fully transparent." causal forces that operate behind the back of the individual. to develop and deploy other talents. He suggests that in capitalism the desires of the individual are flawed in two ways: They tend to be one-sided as well as compulsive. Marx suggests that in capitalism the desire for consumption . In communism this coincidence will indeed obtain and will do away with the need for a social science. This is surely a more plausible view than that Milton could have taken time off.tends to take on a compulsive character. Consider first the psychological. which I discussed and dismissed as utopian. Although one cannot really say that Marx had a psychological theory. there are some remarks. The complaint about one-sidedness derives from the ideal of full self-realization. He writes that Milton wrote Paradise Lost as a silkworm spins silk: because it was an activity of his nature. however. Marx wrote that all science would be superfluous if the essence of things coincided immediately with their appearance. if understood as desires so strong that they overwhelm all others. while writing Paradise Lost. communism will do away with all processes operating "behind the back" of the individuals. Conversely.in full control not only over their actions but over the causes and the consequences of those actions. One may. Individuals will finally be autonomous . that can be taken as a starting point for reflection. notably in The German Ideology. by inducing in them new desires to which they then become enslaved. With respect to the economic study of capitalism. The thin slice of freedom left after the operation of these forces now appears much less valuable. This example also shows that there need not be anything objectionable about compulsive desires. It is also somewhat inconsistent with what Marx says about some of the great achievements in the past. The desire for consumption goods creates a de50 .

requires what is variously referred to as autonomy. This desire. in which both threats are kept in abeyance. satisfies them in a perfectly respectable way. compulsive consumption gives way to the compulsive postponement of consumption characteristic of the miser. there would still remain a good deal of consumption to which this argument would apply.Lack of Autonomy sire for the money that buys goods.may increase. moreover. "keeping up with the neighbors. On this account. A stylized Freudian view appears more plausible. Without denying the importance of conspicuous consumption. nor will they disappear 51 . This analysis. that the compulsiveness often arises because we are too successful in our strategies for coping with impulsive behavior: We become so afraid of yielding to pleasurable temptations that we lose all capacity for experiencing pleasure. compulsive desires for consumption goods will to some extent exist also in communism.the strength of the withdrawal symptoms . We may add. In any case. The perversion of human nature reaches its summit in the thirst for money for its own sake. moreover. The distinction between compulsion and autonomy does not do justice to the complexities of human motivation. or indeed in any society. though initially a derived one. the marginal disutility of not consuming . ego strength. has its limitations. the autonomy of the person is threatened from two sides: by the tendency toward excessively impulsive or myopic behavior that Freud referred to as the Id and by the tendency toward rigid and compulsive behavior that he called the Superego. takes on an independent existence in the compulsive desire to hoard precious metals. though valuable and influential. They are not caused by capitalism. These problems derive from deep biological facts about human beings. I believe that most consumption satisfies needs that no one need be ashamed of having and. because of the inherent addictive ness of many forms of consumption. Marx's psychology is too simple. The desirable balance. Although the marginal utility of consumption is usually decreasing. Even if consumption were to be replaced by self-realization as the dominant value." and insidious techniques of consumer persuasion. and toleration of ambiguity. Conversely. It is not true that all or even most consumption in capitalist societies is compulsive.

Nevertheless. the government. the desirable balance is fragile and vulnerable. To get it in hand. the farmers were caught in a web of their own making. concerted action would be needed. In Keynesian wage cutting. as the other face of the coin. This is not to say that the extent ofthe problems and the ability to deal with them are independent of historical context. the strategy that leads to the collectively undesirable outcome has compelling individual rationality. wage cutting is best for the individual firm. In that case. The situation. Hog producers used to have a frustrating experience: Whenever they expected hog prices to be high and acted on that expectation. Conversely. too unstable to be achieved by all of the people all of the time. This is exactly Marx's point: Only by coordinating their choices according to a common plan can people achieve freedom with respect not only to action but to 52 . the opposite turned out to be the case. The expectations of high prices led them to produce more hogs than usual.Alienation with communism. as in any Prisoner's Dilemma. however. or other external circumstances. stabilizing both prices and production. The social or "supraintentional" causality that frustrates our desires has already been discussed. however. Some additional points can be made. although fully transparent. We need to distinguish more clearly than Marx did between lack of transparence and lack of control. however. One natural response could be to blame this on the weather. Understanding that other firms also cut wages and that together they make the situation worse for themselves than if they had all refrained from wage cutting makes no difference to the firm's behavior. Consider first a case where the lack of control stems from the opacity of social causality and where. A self-fulfilling set of expectations emerged. and known to be understood. when they expected low prices they got very good ones. insight suffices for control. In reality. which of course drove prices down. is out of control. other societies have erred in the opposite direction. The Victorians erred in their strong emphasis on selfcontrol. the expectation of low prices was self-undermining in the same way. the cyclical fluctuations were eliminated. insight does not improve the situation. Whether or not other firms cut wages. Once the causality was clearly understood.

Today we know that central planning. however. Otherwise. It is not just that market economies are unstable and their causality opaque. Marx was very skeptical toward systems of this kind. With respect to transparence and control.Lack of Autonomy the consequences of action. in his eyes. The "mutual exploitation" part of the indictment is undercut by the fact that any complex economy must be anonymous and depersonalized to a very large extent. His indictment of capitalism rested as much on the alienatiOn created by horizontal division between firms and individuals as on the exploitation created by vertical division within firms. the state can provide certain public goods that the market fails to offer because it is not in the interest of any individual producer to do so. On the one hand. Any market economy will be vulnerable to similar paradoxes of decentralized decision making. A mixed economy. a centrally planned economy fares even worse than a market economy. Planning agencies are not monolithic units that make decisions and execute them as one single agent but complex social systems. In The German Ideology Marx refers to this as "mutual exploitation. this holds for "market socialism.can to some extent be stabilized by macroeconomic planning. market economies ." in which firms owned by the workers trade with each other in the market. In this re- 53 . In particular. in which exploitation is necessarily asymmetrical. has paradoxes that more than match those of the market system. Even more importantly." (This notion of exploitation differs from that of Capital. their efforts would be frustrated by the enormous problem of gathering the information required for efficient planning. they are condemned in perpetuity to playing the sorcerer's apprentice.) Yet any such indictment is incomplete as long as we are not told what the alternatives are. is superior to either pure form. Such collective lack of control is not unique to capitalism. The planning agents tend to undermine the plan by pursuing their own personal or bureaucratic interests. on the other hand. And even if their goals coincided perfectly with the common interest. markets operate by arm's-length transactions that subvert communitarian values and make people into mere means to one another's satisfaction. which was the alternative Marx offered.capitalist or socialist .

it does not destroy it. the second the labor embodied in the means of production. his conception of that system itself was massively utopian. present. Unlike many of his predecessors. In reality. In this he was not totally wrong. nevertheless.the first being the labor expended by workers during the production process. Stated with more realism and more sensitivity to the need for making hard choices. Marx argued. This fact detracts from his achievement. prided himself that his socialism was scientific. Another was his refusal to consider the possibility that it might not be possible to overcome all of them simultaneously to the degree that each of them could be overcome separately. One utopian strand in his thinking was the overestimation of the degree to which each of the various evils of capitalism could be overcome. still others to problems inherent in coordinating complex activities. Pure will was not sufficient to bring it about. he emphasized that communism could not arise until capitalism itself had created the requisite material conditions. A mechanic in a machine tool shop works with machines produced by earlier workers to produce tools to be used by later workers. and future generations of workers. Marx. others to biological facts about human beings. all factors of production ultimately resolve into labor. not utopian. The belief that all good things go together and the refusal to consider trade-off's between values are characteristic of utopian thinking. the ideals of self-realization and autonomy remain supremely valuable. He distinguished between living labor and dead labor . These conclusions match that of the earlier discussion of selfrealization.Alienation spect central planning fares no worse and no better than reliance on markets. Yet in spite of his realism with respect to the historical conditions for communism. Marx concluded too rapidly that all the ills he observed in capitalism were due to capitalism. 54 . some of them are due to the nature of industrial work. The produced means of production thus form a link between past. ALIENATION: THE RULE OF CAPITAL OVER LABOR In any productive process.

Here. Marx assimilated the rule of dead labor to the religious fiction that represents men as created by a divine being whom. under close. they go beyond it in an important respect. the dead labor that is present alongside living labor in the production process appears as an alien and hostile power . In the first stage there is a merely "formal subsumption" of labor under capital. is that labor becomes the means to its own enslavement. he must now work in step with the machines. In the second stage. the capitalist moves into the process of production itself.wool into cloth.as capital. In the second stage there is an additional form of domination. in reality. it has become a tangible force that drains the worker of all energy and cripples all his talents. in that the worker loses all autonomy and personal satisfaction from work. The capitalist exploits the worker through his ownership of the means of production but does not extend his domination to the process of production. I need not be or believe myself to be under anyone else's control. The irony and tragedy. Marx distinguishes between two stages in capital's domination of labor. Although in the first stage he had considerable freedom of movement. for Marx. In Hegelian terminology. coercive supervision. This development culminates in factory production. which in turn come to dominate it. for instance. the "real subsumption" of labor under capital. Capital is now more than a claim on surplus. in which the worker is reduced to an appendage of the machinery. they have themselves created. Objective Spirit dominates Subjective Spirit. This stage can be observed in the "putting-out" system of early capitalism. If I fail to control the consequences of my actions. The capital goods are products of human labor. dead labor dominates living labor. Here a capitalist provided a worker with raw materials and paid him a wage to transform them into a finished product . The root of this idea is the critique of religion that he took over from Ludwig Feuerbach. the capitalist can appropriate part of what the worker has produced. in Marxist language. In both stages the worker is exploited by capital. Being helpless and frustrated is not 55 . By virtue of his ownership of capital. Although these phenomena have a family resemblance to the theme of the sorcerer's apprentice.The Rule of Capital over Labor These features of industrial work are perverted and distorted in capitalism.

They differ. In particular. The last Marx refers to as fetishism. though closely linked to exploitation. Both have the same surface grammatical form: A is F. on the other hand. The ownership. The book is red. even if perhaps he brought some gold coins along with him. The height of a person is a quality that inheres in him quite independently of social context. on the contrary. Economic fetishism begins as spontaneously arising illusions of everyday economic life and then solidifies into economic doctrine. the man is tall. The efficacy of capitalist exploitation rests on its ability to perpetuate the conditions under which it appears as morally legitimate. Alienation adds to exploitation a belief on the part of the workers that the capitalist has a legitimate claim on the surplus. Marx tells us that the recognition by labor of the products as its own and the judgment that the separation of labor from the products is unjust are the beginning of the end of capitalism. is seen as legitimate because derived from a legitimate appropriation of surplus at some earlier time. money. alienation-as-frustration. There are two ways of ascribing properties to objects.Alienation the same as being dominated. There is the illusion that workers are free to escape exploitation. not that he was rich. FETISHISM The capitalist economy secretes illusions about itself. at a deeper level. the illusion that capitalists are entitled to their ownership of the means of production. It makes sense to say that Robinson Crusoe on his island was tall. can only be predicated of a person who is inserted in a web of social relations. Economists codify the natural illusions of the economic agents. is a fate that can be shared by everybody. Wealth. To be rich means that other people are 56 . it blunts any such motivation. and the illusion that commodities. Alienation-as-subjection. is not equivalent to it. in tum. however. with a reference to the religions that endow inanimate objects with supernatural powers. and capital have properties and powers of their own. the woman is rich. Alienation in this sense does not offer the workers a motivation to abolish capitalism. unlike alienation-as-subjection. by virtue of his legitimate ownership of the means of production.

The real economy is subject to hard constraints. Capital fetishism is the belief that capital's power to produce is a faculty inherent in it. Such. is inherently productive . To the unmystified mind. is amply documented in history. The mercantilists and cameralists of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were obsessed with the accumulation of precious metals. Economic fetishism. independently of their purchasing power. Money fetishism. as an inherent property. in particular. for instance. not one it owes to the labor process. but the monetary economy easily creates an illusion that it is possible to get something for nothing. but in monetary terms they may be able to deceive themselves into thinking they have gained. There are several kinds of fetishism. corresponding to different economic categories. at any rate. as if the extra productive power is due to 57 . Marx argued. In real terms a situation may be like a Prisoner's Dilemma in which everyone loses. that a war could never be lost as long as gold and silver remained in the country .Fetishism willing to exchange their goods or labor for your money. unlike being tall. the monetary veil is often difficult to transpierce.as if the metals could serve as food for soldiers and ammunition for guns. Even today.not just a symbol of wealth but real wealth in its own right. It is somewhat unconvincing. is a relational predicate. because it is hard to believe that anyone ever committed this particular fallacy. especially in the form of precious metals. however. This is the belief that money. is the tendency to neglect the hidden or implicit relational structure of economic predicates. In the bewitched world of commodity fetishism. goods appear to exchange at a certain rate because oftheir inherent values. was Marx's argument. When a capitalist brings many workers together and their productivity increases more than proportionately to the number of workers. Both workers and capitalists are liable to this error. They believed. Commodity fetishism is the belief that goods possess value just as they have weight. In other cases Marx's accusation of fetishism is more to the point. Being rich. generally speaking. Money fetishism is at work when trade unions define their goals in terms of nominal wages. it appears to them. it is clear that a commodity has exchange value only because it stands in certain relations io human labor and human needs.

M. Autonomy.). Duncan. For some reasons why this view is implausible. M. 1975). To dispel the illusion. The Unintended Conse- 58 .). "The centrality of skillutilization for job design. not a morally deplorable feature of markets. J.). The fetishism of interest-bearing capital and the closely related money fetishism correspond to widespread illusions about the relation between real and monetary accounting.I 62. Gruneberg. 1297-1349. A. In particular. D. Hackman and J. L. Hackman." Psychol09ical Review 81 (1974): 11945. 96. Because from his point of view these actions are equally profitable. 167-87. and D.Alienation capital. app. Wells (eds. 2. Karl Marx's Philosophy ofMan (Oxford University Press. "An opponent-process theory of motivation. Useful discussions of self-realization through work are E. 1977). Nor is it synonymous with "mutual exploitation" in market transactions. Changes in Workin9 Life (Wiley. "Improving work design. it is easy for him to think that they are equally productive. see G. "Nature and causes of job satisfaction. 1980). pp.. Cohen. E. pp. O'Brien. For an analysis of Marx's view that social causality in communism will be perfectly transparent. The comparison between the temporal structure of self-realization and consumption draws on Richard Solomon and John Corbit. Suttle (eds. unless it is because it has been confused with other market-related phenomena. The capitalist falls into a similar illusion when facing the choice between investing his capital in production and depositing it in a bank to draw interest on it. G. 1978). Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford University Press. R. D. Locke. as in commercialized art or prostitution. it is difficult to see why commodity fetishism has received so much attention." in J. see Raymond Boudon. Dunnette (ed. It is a cognitive illusion arising from market transactions." in M. 1976). A. The other forms of fetishism are less important. Improvin9 Life at Work (Goodyear. pp. it suffices to go through the thought experiment of imagining what would happen if all capitalists simultaneously took the second option. Commodity fetishism does not refer to the fact that one turns into a commodity something that ought not to be a marketable object. A thoughtful discussion of this aspect of alienation is John Plamenatz. R. BIBLIOGRAPHY Self-realization. Handbook of Industrial and Or9anizational Psychology (Rand McNally College Publishing Co." in K.

The Idea of a Critical Theory (Cambridge University Press. and steady growth. Martin's Press. A good account of the self-perpetuating nature of exploitation is D. "A behavioral economic approach to the defence mechanism. 1981)." Economic Journal 80 (1970): 32-57. The stylized Freudian theory is fully developed in George Ainslie. The rule of capital over labor. socialism. An economist's critique of consumer society is Tibor Scitovsky. Nuti. .Bibliography quences of Social Action (5t." Social Science Information 21 (1982): 735-80. The best account is chapter 5 in Cohen. "Capitalism. 1976). Marx's Theory of History. The Joyless Economy (Oxford University Press. M. Fetishism. The best philosophical analysis is Raymond Geuss. 1979).

however. The 1870 revolution introduced two closely related changes. is a subjective opinion. Walras in Switzerland. That date marks the end of classical economics. Marx's economic theory fell on deaf ears because it came at the wrong time. to be sure. one would conclude that Marxian economics is flourishing. with a few exceptions. quantitative facts. the technical rigor and mathematical sophistication of modern Marxian economics have done away with some of the obscurantism that used to reign unchallenged. it shifted the focus in economic theory from macroeconomic 60 C . One observes all the normal signs of academic activity: specialized journals. create a set of problems. Moreover. Today Marxian economics is. intellectually dead. "invisible colleges. as the mainstream has come to be called. These achievements did not. with the almost simultaneous achievements of Jevons in England. however. There were spurts of activity in the 1930s with the development of Keynesian Marxism. that it is possible to be obscurantist in a mathematically sophisticated way. Political bias apart. This. if the techniques are applied to spurious problems.4 MARXIAN ECONOMICS INTRODUCTION APIT AL I was published in 1867. interacting little with the mainstream of economic thought and undergoing little development. theories. It is generally agreed that modern economics was born around 1870. First. If one were to go by objective. and then again in the 1960s with the successful Marxist refutation of a central part of neoclassical economics." appointments at major universities. and Menger in Austria. and concepts with a momentum of their own. It turns out. After his death it kept on a separate existence.

Introduction
issues of growth and distribution toward microeconomic problems of economic decision making. Second, it introduced "marginalist" techniques, a branch of applied mathematics tailor-made for the study of rational choice. To get a flavor of the method, consider a typical economic problem: How many workers should a firm hire? The marginalist approach is to ask: How many workers does the firm have to hire before it becomes indifferent between hiring one extra worker and not hiring one? The argument assumes that all other factors of production (machinery, raw materials, etc.) are kept constant. Similar analyses may be carried out for each of these, enabling the firm to arrive at an overall decision of how much to buy of each factor. On the one hand, an extra worker makes an addition to the total output of the firm. Typically, the additional output (the marginal product) decreases as the number of previously hired workers increases. The additional income to the firm may decrease even faster, if a higher output drives the price down. The firm will suffer from a reduced price on all the products it sells, not just on the products made by the newly hired worker. On the other hand, the firm has to consider the cost of hiring an extra worker. If the wage rate is given, it will hire workers up to the point where the extra net income created by one worker equals the wage. It could happen, however, that the demand for more workers drives the wage rate up; again, this will affect all workers, not just the last one to be hired. In that case the firm will hire workers up to the point where net income from an additional worker equals the total cost - his wage plus the wage increase he induces for all other workers - of hiring him. This simple analysis rests on a number of presuppositions to which Marxists tend to take exception. First, there is the idea that each factor of production (labor in the example) has positive, although decreasing marginal productivity. Marx believed that production took place with "fixed coefficients," which means that the factors of production, to be productive, must be used in certain rigid proportions. If the factors are employed in these proportions, hiring an extra worker yields no extra output. Second, the analysis presupposes that the supply of workers can depend on the wage rate, that is. that workers are sometimes induced to work - or to
61

Marxian Economics
work more - by higher wages. The Marxist view, on the contrary, is that workers are forced to sell their labor power. Third, it was presupposed that the firm, to sell all its products, must set the price lower the more it wants to sell. The price depends on how much the least interested customer is willing to pay. Marx, on the other hand, argued that price is determined by cost, not by demand. Of these disagreements, the first can be definitely resolved: Marx was wrong. An extra worker does make it possible to use given machines and raw materials more efficiently. Keeping in mind that similar statements hold for the other factors of production, this creates much more scope for entrepreneurial deliberation and choice than Marx allowed. The other disagreements are more ambiguous. A Marxist could argue that in perfect competition the individual firm must take wages and prices for given; indeed, perfect competition is defmed by the assumption that each firm is too small to affect factors and product prices. To this one may reply, first, that in the age of "monopoly capitalism" economics also needs to study imperfect competition and, second, that even in perfect competition the Marxist analysis is inadequate. Even assuming no relation at the firm level between the wage rate and the number of workers employed, the fact that there is such a relation at the national level conflicts with the view that workers are forced to sell their labor power. Similarly, even though an individual firm can take the price of its product as a given outcome of market forces, demand is an element of the latter and, as such, can affect prices. The upshot of this discussion is that Marxian economics errs by exaggerating the importance of structural constraints and by minimizing the scope for rational choice. Workers and capitalists make decisions by comparing alternatives and choosing the one that best will promote their goals. Workers face the choice between more leisure and a higher income, a choice complicated by the fact that without money it may be difficult to fill the leisure time. The fact that this problem was unimportant in English capitalism around 1850 does not imply that it can justifiably be neglected in contemporary, more affluent capitalist societies. Capitalists must compare the effects - direct and indirect, positive and negative - of different combinations of factors of production. They must also consider
62

The Labor Theory of Value

which employee career structure is most profitable for the firm, how much to spend on advertising, and a number of other decision problems that hardly existed in Marx's time. Only by blatantly ignoring economic reality could one say that all these choices are foreordained by economic necessity. Microeconomics is not all of economics, however. Although methodological individualism tells us that all economic theory ought ultimately to be rooted in the theory of individual economic decisions, there are many branches of economics in which this program is not yet practicable and in which the units of analysis are some kind of aggregate entities. Keynesian macroeconomics is a theory of aggregate saving, investment, and consumption whose microfoundations remain shaky. The neoclassical theory of distribution and growth turns on the relation among aggregate capital, aggregate labor, and aggregate output. Although Marxist economists have done an excellent job in showing that this theory fails because of lack of microfoundations, they have not been equally critical toward Keynesian macroeconomics. Indeed, current Marxian economics is almost as strongly influenced by Keynes as by Marx. A third branch of macroeconomics studies the physical balancing of the various industries or sectors in the economy by considering the forward and backward connections that obtain between them. This input-output analysis was pioneered by Marx. Although perhaps his most significant analytical accomplishment, this analysis of "economic reproduction" is also one of his less "Marxist" achievements. It is more like a bookkeeping account writ large than a study of economic causality.
THE LABOR THEORY OF VALUE

One of the most fundamental questions of econpmics is how to explain the prices at which commodities exchange against each other. Empirical economics studies the prices that can be observed in actual markets. Theoretical economics studies the prices that arise in market equilibrium, when all agents - consumers and producers - have made the best choices they can at the ruling prices. Marxian price theory is an eqUilibrium theory. Although Marx certainly did not believe that capitalism was in or near equi63

Marxian Economics librium most of the time, he nevertheless found it an intellectual challenge to explain the prices that would obtain in equilibrium. Like most of the classical economists, Marx tried to explain price formation by a labor theory of value. The rates at which goods exchange against each other are explained by the amount of labor that has gone into their production. The theory has a certain immediate appeal. If I spend six hours putting straws together to form a mat and you spend three hours to catch one fish from the stream with your hands, the expected rate of exchange - if there is an exchange - would be two fish against one mat. I would not be satisfied with anything less than two fish, because I could have caught that amount myself in the time I spent making the mat; similarly, you would not settle for less than the whole mat. Notice, however, the extreme simplifications in this story. Raw materials are assumed to be available freely and costlessly. Production is assumed to take place without the use of produced means of production. The two kinds of work are assumed to be equally irksome or unpleasant. Acquired skills are ignored, as are inborn talents. When we introduce the complications that the story assumed away, the labor theory of value becomes difficult to defend, or even to state coherently. The most basic difficulty stems from the existence of inborn differences of skill. If you could have made my mat in five hours whereas I would have spent four hours catching one of your fish, simply because of inborn skill differences, it becomes difficult to predict how the goods will exchange. If there are just the two of us, we will bargain over the price, with an outcome that is in general difficult to predict, even if we add information about how strongly each of us desires the two goods. If we assume that there are one million people exactly like you and one million like me, competition between individuals will reduce the scope for bargaining, and we will be able to predict the equilibrium price. There is no way, however, in which we can explain the price by the relative amounts of labor that have been expended, because that ratio is not well defined. To use just labor time, without taking account of the qualitative difference between skilled and unskilled labor, would be as absurd as explaining the price difference be-

64

Let us.neoclassical no less than Marxist .abstractions of this magnitude are performed as a matter of routine. are inherently noncomparable. There is. consider the prospect of the labor theory of value in a world in which they do not apply. show that the notion of the labor value of a good is not well defined. this might or might not affect the exchange rate. If you and I both find catching fish more irksome than making mats. no way in which one could define a conversion factor that would allow us to translate one hour of skilled labor into so many hours of unskilled labor. Just as workers may differ in their skill. There is a way of doing this in the case of acquired skills: We simply look at the amount of labor that has gone into the production of the skill out of unskilled labor power. If you like catching fish and I prefer making mats. True. These objections. And again. It is almost invariably assumed. one might compare them through the wages paid to workers with different skills. whose price is determined by the amount of labor that goes into its production. which was to provide an objective. a world in which all skill differences are acquired by training and all work tasks are equally onerous. moreover. nothing can be explained simply by comparing the number of hours spent on making the products.The Labor Theory of Value tween a sack of potatoes and a sack of rice by comparing their weights. and there is no way of converting one form of labor into another. nevertheless. however. Again. In economic models . comparing the tasks through a comparison ofthe wages they command would be contrary to Marx's intention. depending on the strength of the feelings and on our ability to bluff and bargain. that there are no economies of scale in 65 . whereas a main virtue of the labor theory of value is supposed to be its independence of demand conditions. Inborn skills. the ensuing exchange rate would be different. for instance. work tasks may differ in being more or less pleasant. materialist account of price formation that did not depend on subjective attitudes toward work. The wages of skilled workers reflect the demand for the goods they produce. if correct. but this would go against Marx's view that in capitalism labor power is just one commodity among others.

plus the labor expended the year before last to produce the 10 kilo seed grain that produced those 100 kilo. the labor 66 . buildings. The labor theory of value says that the prices of goods are explained by their labor content. If. using only labor and seed grain as inputs. some of it would come in the industries producing capital goods for the first set of industries. which was held by most classical economists before Marx. Consider the production of grain. directly and indirectly.Marxian Economics production. to put it charitably. Marx. Another. would be that prices are proportional to labor content. in spite of the overwhelming importance of this phenomenon in the real world. is needed to produce it. and so on throughout the whole economy. Constant capital is the labor value of nonlabor means of production: machinery. we imagine that all constant capital is used up in one production period. The labor value of one ton of grain is the sum of the direct labor expended this year to produce it out of 100 kilo of seed grain. knew well that this was not true in general. we must introduce the basic notions of Marxian economics. This infinite series of ever smaller labor inputs adds up to a finite sum. a discussion of the labor theory of value under these simplifying assumptions is perfectly in order. A particularly simple explanation. plus the labor expended last year to produce 100 kilo seed grain. The status and value of insights generated by such drastic simplifications are unclear. which is the labor value of the ton of grain. with seed grain yielding tenfold. and so on. (To make things simpler. In Marx's view. however. we stick to the rules of the economic models game as it is currently played. Some of this extra labor would come in the industries that produce the good in question. equivalent way of thinking about the labor value is as the sum of a series of past labor inputs. The labor value of a good is the sum total of the labor that. one may also think of labor value as an "employment multiplicator": It is the amount of labor that would have to be added to an economy in order to make it possible to produce one more unit of the good. raw materials that have already been somewhat refined by labor. Equivalently. To see why.) Variable capital is the labor value of the labor power of the workers employed in the production process. however.

Let us refer to constant capital. The labor power of the worker is produced out of the goods he consumes. The rate of exploitation (also called the rate of surplus value) is the ratio SIV. and to the same magnitudes in one particular sector as c. respectively. The organic composition of capital (a rough measure of capital intensity) is the ratio CIV The rate of profit is the ratio SI (C + V). The surplus value would appear as profit. To see how these three ratios are related to each other. that he could use the fundamental equation to derive the equilibrium rate of profit that must obtain in each and every sector of the economy. v. variable capital. dividing through yields the rate of profit. namely.The Labor Theory of Value power of the worker is a commodity like any other. In that case the magnitudes c. that this proportionality obtained. however. divide both the numerator and the denominator in the rate of profit by V. s could be interpreted as prices as well as values. and s. the sum of constant and variable capital would appear as cost. v..th . which he consumes in fixed proportions just as production takes place with fixed proportions of inputs. One can use it. . V. wrongly. Surplus value is the difference between the value the worker produces in a given period and the value of the consumption goods needed to sustain him for that period. not only in being bought and sold on the market but in being produced out of other commodities. This last assumption is justified because competition 67 . We can then define three aggregate ratios that play an important part in Marxian economics. Marx believed. and S. e orgamc compOSItIon 0 f capIta1 + 1 This has some claim to be called the fundamental equation of Marxian economics. Let us now compare two firms that produce in industries with different organic compositions of capital and assume that the rate of exploitation is the same in both. hence the labor value of his labor power is defined by the labor value of these goods. and the fundamental equation would be correct with respect to any given industry. Assume. and surplus value in the economy as a whole as C. We obtain the rate of exploitation Th e rate 0 f profiIt . to show that prices cannot be proportional to values. .

contrary to the view that they are hidden and invisible. In order to deduce equilibrium prices from values. however. hidden to the economic agents whose behavior they regulate. capital will flow from the low-profit sectors to the high-profit sectors until equality of profit is achieved. it does not yield the correct results. Because the hypothesis that equilibrium prices are proportional to values leads to the self-contradictory conclusion that firms will have different profit rates in equilibrium. presupposes that the capitalists know what these values are . Marx proposed the following procedure. he multiplied the labor value of the inputs used to produce it . If some industries have higher profits than others. the reasoning can only be characterized as a dialectical howler.by (1 + r). But if the firms operate with the same rate of exploitation and different organic compositions of capital.to labor values. The deduction of prices by a markup on cost as measured in labor values. To deduce the price of any given good. An analogy could be the relation between the visible appearance of a physical object and the atomic structure that explains why it appears that way . First. for another. we must go beyond the surface to the deep structure of the economy .makes it hard to be sure. he used the fundamental equation to derive r.where the distinction between essence and appearance is expounded . Prices appear on the surface. for example. Price. their profit rates must differ. For one thing. cannot obtain in equilibrium. This understanding of Hegel was probably incorrect. in the sense that unlike labor values they are immediately visible to the economic agents.as green rather than yellow.the constant and the variable capital . This. in a study of the 68 . the hypothesis must be false. Marx's deduction of prices violates the idea that values are deep structural entities. It is as if. To explain the relative prices.Marxian Economics in the labor market ensures that workers in the two firms work the same number of hours and reproduce their labor power with the same consumption goods. is derived by adding a markup on costs. Marx believed that the relation between labor values and prices was an instance of Hegel's theory of the essence and the appearance. although the impenetrable density of Hegel's Science of Logic . This proposal is fundamentally flawed. the equilibrium rate of profit. In any case. in other words. however.

The profit is the cost multiplied by the rate of profit. if we want to. This view confuses capitalism and slavery and conflicts with what Marx says elsewhere about the greater freedom of choice that distinguishes capitalism. they need not have the same total labor content. With. where the inputs are given by the "fixed coefficients" of production and the similarly fixed coefficients of consumption. whereas Marx wrongly thought he could derive the rate of profit before he deduced prices. say. we derive the rate of profit and the relative prices in one fell swoop. The cost is the sum of the prices of the inputs used to produce the good. We may calculate them. in this case. A very problematic part of Marx's economic theory is the idea that labor power is produced with a fixed set of consumption goods rather than paid a monetary wage that the workers can proceed to spend as they please. He held this mechanistic conception because without it he could not define the notion of the value of labor power. Hence. we need 15 equations. Note that in the latter labor values play no role whatsoever. 15 goods. Solving these 15 equations with 15 unknowns. Even though all of these add up to the same total price. To find them.The Labor Theory of Value physiology of perception. if the price of the last good is set equal to I by convention. but there is no need to know the labor values. The latter conclusion would follow only if prices were in general proportional to labor values. they can spend it in many different ways. we must know the technical coefficients. 69 . there are 14 relative prices. Here is how a correct deduction would go. a view that Marx rightly discarded. It is a useful exercise to set up a two-sector example to show that Marx's method does not give the same result as the correct procedure. there are 15 unknowns to be found. on many different baskets of consumption goods. The problem is to determine certain unknown quantities: the rate of profit and the set of relative prices. one stipulated that people must know a lot about atomic physics in order to have the visual impressions they have. If workers receive a monetary wage. but once we have done so there is no further use to which they can be put. For each of the 15 goods we set up an equation stating that cost plus profit equals price. To deduce equilibrium prices and the rate of profit.

prices must be such that producers can cover their costs and earn the average profit. Even more important and influential are the chapters in Capital I that propose a broad historical perspective on the rise and development of the capitalist mode of production. the output of sector I must in eqUilibrium be exactly equal to the constant capital employed in the two sectors: '1 + VI + SI = cI + cu. Sector I is the capital goods sector. Also. This is a condition that holds between different sectors and determines their size relative to one another. Physical eqUilibrium for simple reproduction requires that the value of the constant capital used to produce consumption goods equal the value added in the capital goods sector. Actual capitalist economies do not. This is a condition that holds within each sector or industry. Both equations reduce to the same condition: cII = VI + SI. the output of sector II must be exactly sufficient to cover working-class consumption (corresponding to the variable capital) and capitalist consumption (corresponding to the surplus): 'n + Vu + sn = VI + SI + Vu + su. On the other hand. Because we have assumed that constant capital is completely used up during the period of production.Marxian Economics REPRODUCTION. The analyses in Capital II of simple and extended reproduction anticipated later theories of input-output analysis and of balanced multi sectorial growth. His theory of physical equilibrium. whereas sector II produces consu~ption goods for workers and capitalists alike. On the one hand. was more valuable. ACCUMULATION. we divide the economy into two sectors. productive output in one period must be such as to yield the inputs necessary for production and consumption in the next period. Following Marx. AND TECHNICAL CHANGE A state of economic equilibrium has two properties. The total value of the output produced in the two sectors can be decomposed into cI + VI + SI and cII + VII + Sw respectively. We have seen that Marx's analysis of price equilibrium was irremediably flawed. conform to this 70 . however. however. Let us first consider the conditions under which the economy can reproduce itself identically. though not faultless. assuming that the whole surplus goes to capitalist consumption and that no reinvestment takes place.

What are the psychological or economic forces that would lead a capitalist to reinvest part of the surplus. investment takes the form of subjugating noncapitalist sectors of the economy to capitalist rule. It is not quite clear what. One account. was the relation between extensive and intensive accumulation. is the following. in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This is the revolutionary phase of capitalism. or both. Expansion of the capitalist sectors comes up against the limited supply of labor. At the same time we observe the expansion.Reproduction. in Marx's view. Capital is forced to channel its expansive tendencies into innovation and qualitative economic growth. "Accumulate. these purely quantitative fonns of growth come up against their limits. however. He could. however. affect his belief that he was among the elect by engaging in behavior that could be seen as a sign that he was chosen. having exhorted people to come to a religious meeting. His religion told him that salvation was a matter of predestination: The elect had already been chosen from eternity on. it adds that 'The coming soul need not fear 71 . with some basis in his work. The need to save and reinvest is the fundamental driving force in capitalism. Accumulation. An eighteenth-century Methodist pamphlet illustrates this fonn of magical thinking when. as in the putting-out system of early capitalism. Technical Change pattern. Expansion into the noncapitalist environment comes to a halt when all sectors have come under the rule of capital. was that saving and reinvestment were a solution to a psychological tension that inhabited the puritan or Calvinist entrepreneur. decreasing demand for the given range of products. on a given technical basis. The puzzle is why the reinvestment motive arose in the first place. instead of consuming all of it? Max Weber's answer. and that which creates the basis for its own supersession. Initially. accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!" Accumulation may be extensive or intensive. It may take the fonn of quantitative expansion without technical change or of investment in new technology that brings about a qualitative transfonnation of the production process. of sectors that have already been organized on a capitalist basis. Sooner or later. What makes capitalism tick is not only that capitalists make a profit by exploiting workers but that they reinvest part of the profit in further production. and nothing he could do would affect his chances.

because it would appear to give religious. embodies the very same dialectical howler that Marx committed in his deduction of prices from values. therefore. whereas the second seems to correspond more closely to the actual historical development. so that he can undersell his competitors. Some followers of and commentators on Marx have spelled it out as a requirement that capitalists in both sectors save the same proportion of the surplus value created in their sectors. the first has better basis in Marx's writings. but in the absence of specific reasons for thinking otherwise it seems to be a reasonable one. however." as if a real historical development could be explained by mere conceptual juggling." This argument was hardly open to Marx. it does not force him to expand in a merely quantitative manner. In some of his writings he offered a dialectical deduction of "the self-expansion of value. This argument. Quantitative expansion may be retained as an aspect of this process but not as a chronologically separate stage. The consumption goods produced in sector II must cover the consumption of capitalists and workers in the expanded economy. Saving belongs to the realm of money and prices. The proper equilibrium condition. In others he suggested a more satisfactory account: Capitalists are forced to invest by competition. as Marx called it. Competition forces the entrepreneur to invest in more efficient methods.Marxian Economics that he is not elected. The history of capitalism does not divide into a stage of extensive growth followed by one of intensive growth. that capitalists in both sectors have similar saving behavior. for none but such would be willing to come. In his numerical examples Marx did not respect the last condition. however. must be that the same 72 . not to the world of labor values. nomnaterial forces an independent explanatory power that he was not willing to accord them. extended reproduction also has its equilibrium conditions. furthermore. does not support the distinction between extensive and intensive accumulation. From the very beginning it was characterized by innovation and qualitative expansion. Of these two accounts. Merely quantitative expansion or. The capital goods produced by sector I must cover the replacement of constant capital in both sectors plus the demand for new capital derived from the new investment. We stipulate. This.

Technical Change proportion of profits is saved in both sectors. In a rationally organized society. According to Marx. Capitalism. Capitalism acts as a spur on technical change by making innovation a question of survival for the firm. the criterion is the maximization of profit o"r the minimization of paid labor time. the criterion by which a capitalist accepts or rejects new techniques is a socially undesirable one. is both a spur and a bridle on technical change. a consideration that would bring him closer to the profit-maximizing criterion. because work even at its best is a fonn of drudgery that ought to be reduced as much as possible. in two distinct ways. is responsible for the bridles that capitalism imposes on innovation.Reproduction. the scope for machinery would be greater under communism than under capitalism. An innovation that would increase the profit at a given wage rate may also lead to a wage increase that offsets the efficiency gain. (At least this is what Marx argued in Capital. Technical change . as a means to self-realization. Marx argued. It becomes superseded when and because the bridle effect comes to dominate the spur effect . Marx argued that the class struggle may prevent a capitalist owner from adopting the most efficient technique. Innovations 73 . not from the capital-labor relationship within the firm. In other writings he was more open to the idea that work under communism will be a value in itself. That relationship. Contrary to what Marx believed. the criterion for choice of techniques is the minimization of labor time.a statement that will be clarified later. It is what explains the rise and fall of the successive modes of production. the conditions for extended reproduction cannot be stated in labor-value accounting.the development of the productive forces is at the heart of historical materialism. There may be something to that argument but certainly less than Marx claimed. Accumulation. First. A rational planner would consider not only the sum of the series of labor inputs needed to produce the good but also the temporal profile of the series. by contrast.) In capitalism. like any other mode of production based on exploitation and class divisions. the exploitation of labor by capital acts as a fetter on technical change. The dynamism of the capitalist mode of production comes from competition between firms in the market. Hence. Second.

there is no suggestion that the standard of living of the workers will fall in the literal 74 . CRISIS THEORY In his relentless indictment of capitalism. The physical organization and layout of the factory may in tum affect the class consciousness and combativity of the workers. A rational and foresighted capitalist would anticipate this effect and. sacrifice a short-term increase of profit for the sake of long-term maintenance of power. he compared the actual level of want satisfaction and technical change with the level that would obtain in a communist society. In the mature economic writings. united. it is prone to recurrent economic crises that undermine any claim to being a rational way of organizing production and distribution. is incomplete. but the consequences for anyone capitalist of adopting it might not suffice to deter him. In particular. though potentially important. Marx can be absolved from this implausible view. there could easily arise a free-rider problem. Marx adopted both external and internal standards of criticism. This part of the case for the prosecution is argued in the three volumes of Capital. All capitalists might be better off if they all refused to adopt a certain innovation. Although capitalism produces a massive acceleration of the productive forces. This comparison underlies the central indictments produced by the theory of alienation and by historical materialism. The argument. which set out the theory of the falling rate of profit. he argued that capitalism fails to deliver the goods even in its own terms. Because the level of working-class consciousness is not determined by the technical choices of a single capitalist.Marxian Economics are usually embodied in new machinery and physical plant. He appears to claim that it would lead both to ever greater impoverishment of the workers and to a fall in the rate of profit enjoyed by the capitalist class. On closer reading. however. no one would actually benefit from that development. Sometimes it seems that Marx made capitalism out to be more perversely irrational than it could possibly be. On the other hand. The workers are disciplined. On the one hand. if necessary. and organized by the very process of factory production: Capitalism produces its own gravediggers.

Marx wanted to explain the secular tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Like the other classical economists. The two ideas remained separate in his writings. albeit in a very vague form. It was left for Keynes to bring them together. take the further step and ask whether these reactions could overshoot and. notably in the Grundrisse. where Marx was tantalizingly close to the central insights of Keynesian economics. This is a rare instance in which Marx credited capitalism with more collective rationality than it in fact possesses. It might fall relative to that of the capitalist class. He was fully aware of the paradoxical character of a system in which each capitalist wants his workers. The combined effect of population growth and depletion of resources was to slow down economic development. The theory of the falling rate of profit was Marx's main account of the economic breakdown of capitalism. the theory that crises are due to lack of purchasing power among the workers. to be badly paid. instead of restoring equilibrium. with stagnation as the ultimate outcome. Nor did he fully understand the dynamics of wage adjustments. The "hog cycle" illustrates this case. in his analysis of the self-reinforcing process of falling demand and wage cuts. and relative to the level that would be achieved in a rationally planned society. except by accident. however. but not in absolute terms. He also entertained.Crisis Theory sense. however. An important crisis theory among pre-Marxist critics of capitalism was the disproportionality theory. but only his workers. All this. is somewhat simplistic. create a deviation from it in the opposite direction. excess demand is eliminated by a similar self-regulating mechanism. excess supply of goods tends to lower prices and reduce supply. There are many passages. As Marx well knew. The main culprit was diminishing marginal productivity in agri75 . Because there is no coordinating agency to ensure that inputs to production will be available in the requisite proportions. The view of his predecessors was quite similar to that of modern environmentalist concerns. though true. Marx did not. because he did not fully grasp the dynamics of price adjustments. It asserts that in an unplanned economy the conditions for simple or extended reproduction are unlikely to be met. we observe a perpetual combination of waste and shortage.

but when all innovate all suffer. but if we assume .Marxian Economics culture: To produce food for more workers. It has. the rate of profit must fall. and lower profits. that there is an increasing organic composition of capital. and it is indeed quite indefensible. to gain a cutting edge in competition. The capitalists face a Prisoner's Dilemma. A dialectical rendering of the argument is the following. are treacherous formulations that cannot be upheld in a more rigorous treatment. Each capitalist has an incentive to innovate. The tendency of innovations to be labor-saving means. Indeed. without which it could not have exerted such a strong attraction on generations of later Marxists. we could not conclude to an increase in the organic composition of capital. at first glance it appears plausible on dialectical no less than on mathematical grounds. An algebraic version of the argument is the following. nevertheless. leading to higher food prices. innovations have saved more or less equally on labor and on capital. higher wages. When capitalists substitute dead labor for living labor. Historically. was the very cause of the fall. It then follows from the fundamental equation of Marxian economics that if the rate of exploitation is constant. in Marx's language. however. it would indeed experience an increase in the organic composition. The last claim sounds strange. If one industry has a labor-saving innovation. These.that such innovations occur 76 . not in agriculture. The cause of the falling rate of industrial profit had to be sought in industry itself. it is not borne out by the facts.as Marx did . an apparently unbeatable combination. Marx offered an explanation that differed in two respects. Although the view that technical change is inherently labor-saving appears very plausible. Technical change. Technical change might counteract and delay this tendency but only for a while. they behave in a collectively self-destructive way. especially in the day of the computer revolution. which is the ultimate source of all profit. land of lower quality had to be taken into use. Even if we granted that there is a labor-saving bias on the whole. far from being a counteracting tendency to the falling rate of profit. It neglects such dramatic capital-saving innovations as explosives and the wireless. a certain superficial plausibility. Technical change tends to be labor-saving.

77 . so that there is an increase in the rate of exploitation. Although Marx . Finally. we may consider the following explanations.contrary to a widespread view .will also be the cause of its breakdown. In the presence of technical process. It is difficult to carry out the kind of analysis he attempted without the technical tools for evaluating the net effect of complex social processes. there may have been an element of wishful thinking at work.its relentless tendency to innovation . It also implies that the shares of labor and capital of the net social product remain constant. It is difficult to understand today how a mere numerical fraction can take on the significance of the domination of Objective Spirit over Subjective Spirit. he was not trained in it. He gives no reasons for thinking. that the net effect of an increase in both the numerator and the denominator of the fundamental equation will be a fall in the rate of profit. whereby the worker is reduced to a mere cog in a gigantic machine. Also. so that there is no relative impoverishment either. this assumption implies that real wages are rising in absolute terms: There is no absolute impoverishment.Crisis Theory across the board. For Marx. Marx's theory of the falling rate of profit leaks like a sieve. the link is broken. Most importantly. Marx did not consistently adhere to the assumption that the rate of exploitation remains constant. The quantitative domination is the increase in the organic composition. the argument for an increase in the organic composition of capital rested on a confusion between the qualitative and the quantitative domination of labor by capital. perhaps. however. There is a pleasing paradox in the view that the driving force of capitalism . in all industries. Innovations in the industry that produces capital goods for the industry in which a labor-saving innovation has occurred reduce the value of these goods and lower the organic composition of capital in the latter industry. Marx suggests that the actual development is one in which wages rise in absolute terms but fall in relative terms. The qualitative domination is the real subsumption of labor under capital. this Hegelian algebra was self-evidently true.was not averse to the use of mathematics in economic analysis. To understand how he could have held the extremely counterintuitive view that innovation causes a fall in the rate of profit.

Economic Thought in Retrospect. and Philippe van Parijs. 1973). 78 . On the falling rate of profit. Analytical Foundations ofMarxian Economics (Cambridge University Press.Marxian Economics BIBLIOGRAPHY Introduction. Michio Morishima. "The agrarian roots of European capitalism. Marx after SrafJa (New Left Books. They may be usefully supplemented by C. C. 1985). On the relation between competition and technical change in early capitalism. and technical change. (Cambridge University Press. see Mark Blaug." Review of Radical Political Economy 12 (1980): 1-16. Harcourt. Excellent expositions. von Weizsacker. C. Work and Welfare in Economic Theory (Blackwell. 1985). 1977). The labor theory of value. Morishima's Marx's Economics is good on the first two topics. 1981). Marx's Economics (Cambridge University Press. On the place of Marxian economics in the history of economic analysis. see again Roemer. and by Ugo Pagano. accumulation. "The falling-rate-of-profit theory of crisis: a rational reconstruction by way of obituary. are Ian Steedman. see especially Robert Brenner. 1973). Roemer's Analytical Foundations is an outstanding exposition of the third. Some Cambridge Controversies in the Theory of Capital (Cambridge University Press. Crisis theory. and John Roemer. 3d ed. Steady-State Capital Theory (Springer. Reproduction. Analytical Foundations. The Marxist critique of neoclassical growth theory is explained in G. 1971)." Past and Present 97 (1982): 16-113. in increasing order of difficulty.

whether perceived by the exploited or not. exploitation is a normative concept that is part of a wider theory of distributive justice. On the one hand. or revolution. Because of a limited horizon. They may focus on the size of the surplus that is extracted from them. when perceived by the exploited. As such it can enter into the explanation of class struggle and social change. Exploitation. without noticing that part of it is reinvested in future production that partly redounds to their benefit. The two purposes do not fully match.5 EXPLOITATION INTRODUCTION T H E contrast and the conflict between the haves and the havenots. Exploitation. Marx's theory of exploitation is an attempt to provide a scientific. in the appropriate normative sense. On the other hand. Marx's notion of exploitation has a very specific content. whereas the class struggle is motivated by more immediate concerns. It is unfair that some should be able to earn an income without working or out of proportion with their work contribution. rigorous statement ofthese intuitive notions. provides a motivation for revolt. the idle rich and the working poor. are constant themes of history. In his work as a whole it serves two distinct purposes. The normatively relevant concept of exploitation may not have strong motivational force. Exploitation. in space or time. riot. A 79 . it has an explanatory function. Workers may focus their struggle on managers. is morally wrong. when in reality these are only passing on the surplus to shareholders. is a highly abstract concept. protest. the exploited may make mistakes about the identity of the exploiters and about the extent to which they are exploited.

by contrast. If some are exploited.the performance of labor over and above what is needed to produce the goods consumed by the laborer. there must also be some who are exploited. If he actually produces his own consumption goods. there must be others who are exploiters. Moreover. because they are actually paid by the hour. In other modes of production the exploited perceive their situation in a different light. Because even a trained economist would hardly be able to do this. It is only in feudalism that the appearance of exploitation coincides with its essence . the criterion for exploitation is simply whether he also produces goods to be consumed by others. Wage workers. however. we can safely assume that the agent himself will not. Because Marx did not have this kind of case in mind. Marx argued. Strictly speaking.Exploitation person is exploited. in Marx's sense. the concept of exploitation ought perhaps to be restricted to situations in which the product of labor is put to some further use. This was the case in feudalism. if he performs more labor than is necessary to produce the goods that he consumes. in the precise Marxian sense. Not being aware that he is exploited. independent farmer or artisan may be exploited. but the surplus he produces may be thinly spread out over all his trade partners. forgetting that part of it covers the cost of reproducing their labor power. a person is an exploiter if he works fewer hours than are needed to sustain his consumption. Usually. the converse need not be true. where the serfs worked some days on their own land and the rest of the week on the lord's land. he may not even know that he is exploited. for any exploited agent we can point to another who is exploiting him. To assess his "net exploitation status" we would have to carry out horrendously complicated calculations of the labor value of the goods he consumes. For there to be exploiters. One can imagine a society in which everybody is exploited because the surplus is simply thrown away or used in religious sacrifices rather than being appropriated by a class of exploiters. A small. Conversely. tend to think that all their labor is unpaid labor. This need not be the case. More precisely. Slaves. we can point to an exploiter who ends up with the surplus produced by the exploited agent. are easily misled into thinking that all their labor is paid labor. he will not 80 .

what motivates is an inappropriate notion. that in the presence of inborn skill differences among workers. It is just to let wages vary with the number of hours worked. one has a job which is more dirty and unpleasant than the other. FREEDOM. he is. Although not a theory of exploitation in Marx's sense. because it forces us to render comparable what is not.Exploitation. however. We know. their preference for slavery in these cases 81 . Here. that the first problem is irrelevant. There is sufficient similarity among workers and among jobs to justify the use of a simplified model. If. the normatively appropriate notion fails to motivate. along the lines of some pre-Marxian socialists. One might argue. however. By requiring us to compare the amount of labor a person performs and the amount embodied in the goods he consumes. but not with the quality of labor performed. Inborn skills or talents are morally arbitrary facts that ought not to influence the distribution of earnings. Although slaves have sometimes refused freedom when given the option. or differences in irksomeness among jobs. but then this comment would apply to any scientific model. EXPLOITATION. in the manager-shareholder case. this would be a theory of economic justice using labor time as the sole criterion. which is within the control of the person. of two unskilled workers. this reduction cannot be carried out. In any case. Freedom. and Force be motivated to revolt by the fact that. handle the second difficulty. The labor theory of exploitation is something of a straitjacket. it presupposes that all labor can be reduced to a common denominator. AND FORCE How does exploitation arise? Do the exploiters have to force or coerce the exploited? Or could the relation be one of free and voluntary exchange? Exploitation of slaves and serfs almost invariably rests on physical coercion. For some purposes these problems may be neglected. It cannot. Marx's labor theory of exploitation shares some of the weaknesses of the labor theory of value. he will be and should be paid more. it will turn out that even on its own simplifying assumptions the theory is open to serious objections. which is not. objectively speaking.

if the capitalist interferes with alternative employment opportunities for the workers. Coercion presupposes the existence of an exploiter who. begging. According to Marx. with the lord providing military protection in exchange for the serfs' surplus labor. not its cause. The origin of capitalist exploitation cannot be captured in any simple formula. They have no land they can cultivate: neither do they have the capital necessary to set themselves up in business. deliberately. Capitalist exploitation can. stealing. we will protect you against our rivals. Marx argued that the English enclosures from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century were partly carried out with a view to drive the small peasants 82 . rest on economic coercion. The choice of wage labor is forced. goes out of his way to increase the likelihood that the agent will choose exploitation over the alternatives. because serfdom was more like a protection racket than a genuine exchange. but no one could seriously argue that the owner is not coerced. this form of physical coercion is rare.Exploitation was an effect of the condition of slavery. In capitalism. Nor do they usually have the documented entrepreneurial skills that could persuade a bank to lend them money. but we may doubt whether their choice was uncoerced." The restaurant owner would be better off were there no gangsters at all. "In social life is there any more elusive notion than the free will of a small man?" It has been seriously argued that serfdom rested on a mutually beneficial contract between lord and serfs. given their existence. it typically arises because workers are forced by economic circumstances to sell their labor power. As the French medieval historian Marc Bloch once asked. or the workhouse . A gangster who offers protection to a restaurant owner does indeed protect the owner against rival gangsters who would otherwise move in. although uncoerced. however. if you don't. Thus.are so unattractive that no man in his senses would choose them. All alternatives to wage labor starving. we'll punish you. Instances of free men selling themselves into slavery exist. it is preferable to pay a steady fee to one of them than to be permanently exposed to raids and predation. The offer-threat is "If you pay us. The argument fails. although. in slavery and serfdom the exploiters attach severe penalties to the attempt to escape exploitation.

whereas economic coercion can employ perfectly legal means. and being forced by circumstances. it is less clear that what I am doing is legally objectionable. the loss of family income may force the wife to sell her labor power. Coercion presupposes. it can be punished only if intent is demonstrated. Such abuse is often punishable if the motive is sheer spite but usually not if the motive is to make money out of the transaction. to be exploited. but today it is less plausible to assert that all sale of labor power is either coerced or forced. which may be difficult. They 83 . Physical coercion involves the invasion of the rights of others. Living on her husband's income remains an acceptable alternative. economic coercion the abuse of one's own rights. for instance by underselling them more than is normal competitive practice. and when they do. Contrary to Marx's belief. and force excludes. The distinction between physical and economic coercion is more tenuous. Consider two reasons why wives who have stayed at home may decide to enter the labor market. I act spitefully and possibly actionably. its value will be enhanced by the money she can spend on it. and Force from the land. hence. So far we have distinguished three degrees of involuntariness: physical coercion. In a boom. Writing in the rnidnineteenth century. economic coercion. Marx was largely justified in neglecting such cases. the offer of very high wages may induce her to do so.Exploitation. Even when the abuse is illegal. it is in a sense quite different from the Marxist one. Neoclassical economists rarely refer to exploitation. thus coercing them into selling their labor power. In a recession. but she prefers to work for a wage and. Another example of economic coercion would be if capitalist firms deliberately made life difficult for workers' cooperatives. The distinction between coercion and what Marx called "the dull force of economic circumstances" is clear enough. Physical coercion is illegal in capitalism. If my purpose is to make you pay me not to erect it. exploitation need not be involuntary in any of these senses. If I erect a fence on my property for the sole purpose of shutting off your view. although not unimportant. intentional efforts by the exploiter to influence the alternatives (other than exploitation) open to the exploited. Freedom. Although she will have less leisure.

in class societies as well as in societies without class divisions. On closer inspection. but because its behavior does not affect the wage it is strange to say the workers are thereby exploited. It arises only when firms have some degree of market power. The simplest variety is exploitation without class fonnation. The definition is somewhat implausible if we want to retain the usual connotations of exploitation. in market as well as nonmarket economies. For one thing. when they are able to influence wages or prices instead of having to take them as given. not just in its imperfect forms. there is a commodity market where the producers exchange their products with each other. the two theories have nothing in common. For simplicity we may assume that their goal is to obtain a given level 84 . On the neoclassical definition." This is a community of farmers and artisans who own their means of production and employ only family labor. exploitation is impossible in perfectly competitive capitalism. Exploitation can occur in capitalist as well as precapitalist societies. Assume that a firm happens to have such a large market share that its behavior can affect prices but that the wage rate is given. The fundamental difference is that Marx wanted to argue that exploitation must exist in any form of capitalism. for another. workers may be forced to sell their labor power even if there is perfect competition so that no firms have any market power. that is. The firm will not find it profitable to produce up to the point where the value of the marginal product equals the wage. however.Exploitation define exploitation as a wage that is less than the value of the marginal product of labor. whereas Marx would say that there is exploitation when the wage is below the average product of labor. There is a superficial verbal similarity between Marx's view that exploitation arises because workers are forced to sell their labor power and the neoclassical view that it occurs because firms exercise economic power. which arises in what Marx called "simple commodity production. EXPLOITATION IN HISTORY The historical varieties of exploitation are numerous and diverse. they rest on different concepts of exploitation. Although there are no labor and credit markets.

When previously they consumed the same goods and worked less. It is irrelevant that some are rich and some are poor.exploitation and class are not necessarily tied to each other. consider another economy that differs from simple commodity production only in that the producers do not trade with each other. taking their endowments with them. Exploitation without class is not a stable situation. They are vulnerable to price fluctuations. they must have been exploiters. and for good reasons. for wealth is not a Marxist criterion of class. Yet it is a logically conceivable situation. these will have to work less to achieve their goal.Exploitation in History of consumption . and so on. In either case a class division is created. As a group. 85 . Each family produces its own consumption goods. we carry through the thought experiment of imagining that the poorly endowed producers disappear from the economy. It is then intuitively clear. because all producers stand in the same relation to the means of production. To see that it is. One might question whether this is exploitation. accidents of weather. as before. and can be proved rigorously.with a minimum of work. the better-endowed producers now consume goods that embody exactly as much labor as they perform. illness. In an economy of this kind. Because they did not interact with the poorly endowed producers. because they lose the gains from trade. In the no-trade economy the producers who remain behind will work the same number of hours as before. For each of these economies. the poorly endowed producers will usually lead a highly precarious existence. Marx did not see simple commodity production as a significant historical phenomenon. which shows that .contrary to a widespread Marxist belief . that if some producers have more capital endowments than others they will have to work fewer hours to get the income needed to achieve the consumption target. As before. as before. the goal is to achieve a fixed level of consumption with a minimum of work. some are better endowed than others. they are not affected by their disappearance. In a crisis they will borrow from the rich producers or offer themselves for hire.the same for all producers . Yet there are no class divisions in this society. In simple commodity production the better-endowed producers will have to work more under the thought experiment.

on pain of physical coercion . exploitation is accompanied by class divisions. Exploitation through usurer's capital or financial capital gives no impetus to the development of the productive forces. through mortgage interests. alongside it. Slaves form a distinct class because they do not own any means of production. the relation between them is not one of class. because a moneylender has neither the incentive nor the opportunity to improve the methods of production. so there are no class differences. Although there may be class divisions within each country. Marx argued in The Eighteenth Brumaire that the apparently independent French peasantry was in reality exploited by financial capital. Yet because of differences in endowments there can arise regional and sectoral inequalities that reveal the presence of exploitation. Yet in societies where one of these was the dominant relation. Here all workers are members of self-managed firms.to work on the lord's land. worker and capitalist." Even in capitalism proper this form of exploitation persists. they also have partial ownership of their nonlabor means of production. there have usually existed. He has no incentive. relations of indebtedness arising in the credit market. nevertheless. These are the main relationships of exploitation and class: between slave and slaveowner. Nor does he have an opportunity. serf and lord. More generally. not even their own labor power. Marx claimed that in classical antiquity the conflict between debtor and creditor was the main form of class struggle. It arises in "unequal exchange" between nations. Because the rest of the week they work on plots of their own. In the overwhelming majority of cases. Serfs have only partial ownership of their labor power. classless exploitation is more than a mere logical possibility. Workers in capitalism have full ownership of their labor power but typically do not own any other means of production.Exploitation Actually. because part of the week they are obliged . which has "the mode of exploitation of capital without its mode of production. when rich countries exchange goods with low labor content against goods with high content. in all precapitalist societies one observes usurer's capital. Exploitation without class could also occur in market socialism of the Yugoslav variety. because he is not the "residual claimant" who receives what is left over after payment of fixed expenses. for 86 .

takes place on a large scale. at any rate he can threaten to do so. this was the main relation between the two classes. As the residual claimant. depend on further institutional features. This relation is the object ofthe day-to-day class struggle in capitalism. the worker is not without some bargaining chips of his own. Because of his specific. however. This accounts for the uniquely dynamical character of capitalism. As organizer of the production process. also has some bargaining power. and because in any case he might not abide with it unless forced to.) The fact that in modern capitalism we observe both exploitation and subordination should not lead us to confuse them with one another. the capitalist or his agent enters into a new relation to the workers. Although the worker may have agreed to such supervision as part of the contract." In the early stage of capitalism. The capitalist. This kind of struggle is not specifically capitalist. Industrial capitalism adds a "real subsumption" . It can be expected in any hierarchically organized industrial economy. he may still resent it deeply as an attack on his autonomy and dignity. Moreover. which.the subordination and lack of autonomy of the worker in the work process. (The terms and outcome of the struggle will. he may not be easily replaceable. The workers have a stronger position if they have security of employment than if they can easily be fired. This may lead the capitalist to replace the optimal techniques with others that create less dependence on skilled workers. Because the labor contract cannot specify in full detail what the worker is to do. capitalist or communist. In all forms of capitalist exploitation we find the "formal subsumption of labor under capital. An industrial capitalist has both the incentive and the opportunity to introduce new techniques. In this struggle. the indebted producer does have an incentive. for one can observe the first with87 . moreover. the very specificity of the worker's knowledge also makes it difficult for him to find another job. there is a need for constant supervision and monitoring of his efforts. idiosyncratic knowledge of the production techniques of the firm. He is both the residual claimant and the actual organizer of production.Exploitation in History he is not actively involved in the production process. in other words. but because of the small scale of production the opportunities for improvement are limited.

Market exploitation does not rest on power in this direct way. but a number of more indirect connections 88 . with the bureaucracy as the ruling class. More generally. Nonmarket exploitation immediately rests on power. the state is the guarantor of exploitation. in attracting to itself some of the opposition that otherwise would have been directed against capital. He also argued. In The Eighteenth Brumaire and other writings on France he asserted that the bureaucratic state apparatus was a parasite or a vampire that lived off the labor of the common people. by providing public goods that private exploiters do not find it profitable to create. as the ultimate owner of all land. In many societies the state has engaged in exploitation. by protecting the class of exploiters against the exploited and against its own individual members. to ensure freedom of contract and guarantee private property. Marx argued that in the Asiatic mode of production the state. Finally. was private property of land and slaves. that in the final an'alysis the Bonapartist state was instrumental in sustaining the ruJe. The exploiter need not be an individual. The apparently independent state acted as '" lightning rod. In capitalism.Exploitation out the second (in early capitalism) or the second without the first (in managerial communism). was the main exploiter. In bureaucratic agrarian societies the state has been the main exploiter. there are several ways in which the state can enter into the foreground or background of exploitation. whose main base. however. At this point we may try to summarize the complex relations that obtain between exploitation relations and power relations. in all forms of market exploitation the state is present in the background. or the even more indirect form of enacting measures in favor of the exploited in order to provide an appearance of legitimacy.of capital over labor. The state can also enhance the efficiency of exploitation. To have full or partial ownership of the labor power of another person is to have power over him. Marx argued. In ancient Rome taxes were largely siphoned off to the economically dominant classes. however. The protection against the exploited may take the form of direct oppression. the indirect form of acting as a lightning rod for opposition. The merits and demerits of this analysis will concern us later.

" may be economic coercion. The power of the state is presupposed as a background to any form of market exploitation. culminating in a discussion of the Ten Hours Bill that was passed in l848. First.logically and sometimes empirically. Of these. the cause. in fact. he argues that the bill passed because it was in the interest 89 . there is no power involved at all. A long chapter is devoted to the struggle over the length of the working day in England. No producers are compelled by the "force of circumstances" to offer their products on the market or coerced to do so by others. A cheapening of consumption goods nevertheless has an impact on the class struggle. as when a worker sells his labor power to a capitalist and thereby becomes subject to subordination in the work place. Nonetheless. simple commodity production where the producers can earn a good living just by producing for themselves but prefer to earn even more by engaging in trade with each other. the three phenomena are distinct . When a person sells his labor power. the rate of exploitation depends on the length of the working day. Nor is there any subordination in the production process. Hence. whereas the third can change only through general technical progress. Although the power ofthe state is presupposed as a background condition. when it is not the "force of circumstances. He offers. three separate explanations without making it dear how they are related to each other. The latter depends on the real wage and the labor content of the goods that enter into the real wage. Marx's analyses of this event are both powerful and incoherent. by modifying the bargaining terms of the parties. the first two are objects of the class struggle. Consider. This rate is defined as the ratio of surplus value to the value of labor power. Exploitative relationships may also give rise to power relationships. Although the exchange may give rise to exploitation. Although class relations and power relations are closely connected to exploitation. In Capital I Marx discusses at some length the determinants of the rate of exploitation in capitalism. exploitation is not a power relationship. it is a relation between the state and each of the producers. and the labor value of goods. as a limiting case.Exploitation in History obtain. not among the latter. the real wage.

Marx suggests that there was no capitalist opposition to the bill. It was in the collective interest of the capitalist class not to kill off the goose that was laying the golden eggs. The landowners. The excessive exploitation of the workers threatened their physical survival and hence the continued existence of the capitalist system itself. although contrary to that of each individual capitalist. Marx's analysis of this triangular class relation. The excessive exploitation of the workers through long working days was threatening the vital forces of the nation. would reduce the price of food and thereby modify the bargaining terms between labor and capital in favor of the latter. Next. The repeal. and he would be only marginally hurt by the ravages he thereby caused. Again. Finally.Exploitation of "society. wanted to retain their monopoly power. on pain of bankruptcy. in return for working-class support in regard to the Com Laws. Their poor living conditions were a breeding ground for epidemics. this is a powerful analysis. he would be forced to follow suit. by allowing for import of cheap Continental grain. Although the latter did not in themselves have an interest in a shorter working day for the workers. which in tum threatened the other classes as well. Overworked and underfed workers make bad soldiers. and somewhat perplexingly. was one of his most important achievements. If other capitalists acted according to short-term greed. they needed their help in their own struggle against the capitalists over the proposed repeal of the Com Laws. Marx claimed that the bill was carried because of the active efforts of the working class. as Marx does not explain how the capitalists overcame 90 . the bill was passed because it was in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole. but somewhat flawed. the capitalists were placed in a Prisoner's Dilemma. They could offer the workers their assistance in wearing down capitalist opposition to the Ten Hours Bill. Yet any individual capitalist had always an incentive to exploit his workers to the hilt. supported by the landowning aristocracy. needless to say." represented by the government. he could gain an edge on them in competition by exploiting his workers more heavily. On this view. with multiple opportunities for alliance formation and strategic behavior. On the contrary. If other capitalists showed more moderation.

He forgets that complex industrial technology often requires the cooperation and coordination of many workers. when technical progress leads to a fall in the value of consumption goods. Yet he does not provide a theory of bargaining that could lend some predictive and explanatory power to this assertion.Exploitation in History their free-rider problem. Both have similar effects on the rate at which labor power is worn down and the rate at which it must be compensated. To some extent. The intensity of labor also enters into the determination of the rate of exploitation. entail increased costs of supervision. Marx had no good explanation of the real wage rate. To say that the Ten Hours Bill was passed because it was in the interest of "capital" would be to commit the twin mistakes of methodological holism and unsupported functional explanation. and in addition Marx suffered from a self-imposed handicap. To make the workers work harder is in many respects like making them work longer. Yet he does not provide an explanation of why wages differ across countries or over time. In reality. because they force the workers to police themselves. He asserts that they are determined by the class struggle and not simply by the play of supply and demand in a perfectly competitive labor market. moreover. wages must also fall. It is. difficult to reconcile this account with the others. Marx recognizes this fact when he refers to a "historical and moral element" in the value of labor power. at no cost to the capitalist. however. Increasing the intensity of labor does also. he is absolved by the failure of any later economist to do much better. therefore. Marx argues. in a way that does not lend itself to piece wages because there are no "pieces" that can be attributed to the individual worker. Both methods increase the amount of labor extracted from the workers in any given twentyfour-hour period. His view that labor power is a commodity that is produced with specific amounts of consumption goods as inputs led him to the absurdly mechanistic view that. To some extent. when capitalists and workers bargain over the benefits made possible by cheaper consumption goods there is no reason to think that the capitalist will end up with everything. that piece wages are more suited to capitalist production. automatically and proportionally. The problem is in itself very difficult. An alternative would 91 .

One is left with the answer. It is unfair that some should be able to earn an income without working. Nor is there a communist theory of justice. ausniitzen and ausbeuten. which has unambiguous normative connotations. The conclusion is almost unavoidable that part of Marx's indictment of capitalism rests on its i~ustice. for the neutral sense "making use of' and the critical sense "taking unfair advantage of. Rather. He asserts that theories of morality and justice are ideological constructions. it is impossible to read the burning pages of Capital I without sensing Marx's indignation at the practices he is describing. whereas others must toil to eke out a miserable existence. Also. Actions are said to be just or unjust according to a moral code corresponding to a particular mode of production. the extraction of surplus labor is not. the title character in Mo92 . It remains a puzzle how Marx could hold these views and also characterize capitalism and communism in terms that strongly suggest a particular conception of justice. In part this is achieved by trade unions. communism will be a society beyond justice. EXPLOITATION AND JUSTICE Exploitation is a normative. There is no transhistorical. which only serve to justify and perpetuate the existing property relations. that he did not really understand what he was doing. although it is difficult to accept when interpreting a writer of Marx's stature. This is less obvious in English than in German." Marx uses the latter term. nonrelativistic conception of justice.Exploitation be to have the workers police each other. slavery and fraud are unjust. In capitalism. For similar reasons he also rejected the view that communism substitutes altruist motivations for selfish ones and asserted that the very distinction between altruism and egoism will be transcended in communism. which uses different terms. Yet Marx explicitly denies that he is advocating a particular conception of justice. He was a bit like M. critical concept. Unionized firms have procedures for grievance and conflict resolution that reduce the scope for individual opposition and sabotage and the need for constant supervision of the workers. Jourdain.

by far the least scientific part of Marx's thought. 93 . He believed that historical development was governed by laws of motion operating with iron necessity. they would suffer in income or welfare. one might argue that exploitation is socially necessary if an attempt to reduce or eliminate it would defeat its purpose by hurting the very people it was supposed to benefit. As long as exploitation is historically necessary. capitalism will fall away by itself. nonrelativistic way. Jourdain. for instance. To see what is wrong with them. There are several reasons why Marx felt compelled to deny that one could talk about justice in a meaningful.Exploitation and Justice liere's play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. to pay skilled people more than others. and when they are. so that moral condemnations were either pointless or superfluous. They constitute what is sometimes called scientific socialism. Communism cannot come about before conditions are objectively ready for it. however. It might be necessary. Marx went out of his way to refute the correct deSCription of what he was doing. we can begin by distinguishing between two senses of "socially necessary exploitation. On the other hand. as soon as its time is past. With less exploitation the exploited would be worse off: Although less exploited. exploitation could be said to be socially necessary when a reduction would endanger the prospects of the future communist society. it will disappear. In neither stage is there a room for moral strictures. These are highly implausible views. his attitude is explained by the Hegelian and teleological roots of his thought. in order to induce them to use their socially valuable talents. it will remain. The first idea is similar to that proposed by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice: Deviations from equality are tolerable as long as they work to the benefit of the worst-off group in society. More deeply. Unlike M. He was strongly repelled by sanctimonious phrases about justice that served only to legitimate the horrible practices of capitalism. believing them to be reactionary in effect if not in intent." On the one hand. He was also very hostile to moral or moralizing conceptions of communism. who is astonished to learn that he has been speaking prose all his life without knowing that he was doing anything so fancy. even if it would improve the welfare of those currently exploited.

one can understand why Marx was fond of citing a verse by Goethe: Sollte diese Qual uns qualen. it was inevitable because it was indispensable. The development of the productive forces requires the relentless operation of the profit motive. He was confident that exploitation was a necessary condition for communism. Da sie unsre Lust vermehrt. Moreover. Hence. It is also quite unacceptable.Exploitation The second idea was embraced by Marx. He never doubted that the advent of communism was certain. There are several reasons why he believed exploitation to be an indispensable stepping-stone to communism. it neglects the fact that individuals who live here and now have rights that prevent us from sacrificing them as pawns in a wider historical game. even if we disregard the issue of rights and consider the matter as a pure utilitarian calculus. at least up to the point when that very development has created the material conditions for a society in which further development can take place as part of the general self-realization of the individuals. Without exploitation the artistic and scientific achievements of the past would have been impossible. For another. the sacrifice of those currently living for the sake of future generations cannot be justified. For one thing. with a twist. the existence of a mass of exploited workers creates the indispensable subjective condition for a communist revolution. except on the unjustifiable assumption that we can know for cer94 . He believed exploitation to be necessary in two distinct senses: It was both inevitable and indispensable. The majority must work more than is needed for their subsistence to ensure free time for a creative minority. at the very time when the material conditions are being created. Finally. Hat nieht Myriaden Seelen Timur's Herrsehaft aufgezehrt? [Should this torture tonnent us Since it brings us greater pleasure? Were not through the rule of Timur Souls devoured without measure?] This detached attitude to the sufferings of mankind contrasts strangely with the indignation Marx expressed in many other places. he could conclude that it was indeed inevitable. Hence.

and stealing. Perhaps the most disastrous part of the legacy of Marxism is the intellectual hubris involved in the belief that one can know and predict with confidence the outcome of current conflicts and. we must consider what Marx says about capitalism to get a clue to the sense in which it might be unjust. The sense in which extraction of surplus value is unfair must refer to a nonrelativistic. we need to look at his far less numerous statements about communism to see whether they offer a positive conception of justice. The full communist society cannot emerge directly 95 .Exploitation and Justice tain that it is sufficient and necessary to bring about communism (as Marx conceived it). Capitalism is an unjust system because some get more and others less than they have contributed. Moreover. conveys a very strong impression that Marx is arguing the case for the prosecution in moral terms. What are the reasons for believing that Marx entertained a conception of justice? What is that conception? Is it plausible? There are two kinds of textual evidence to be considered. More specifically. transhistorical conception. On the other hand. The main evidence for Marx's conception of justice in communism is. It is supported by a rare explicit statement from the 1861-3 Critique. On the one hand. embezzlement. use that knowledge to justify the strategies adopted in the struggle. or at least its labor time equivalent. with respect to capitalist conceptions of justice. robbery. These are terms that immediately imply that an injustice is being committed. exploitation. It is time to look at the evidence on the other side. the sense in which it is an injustice cannot be the relativistic one. he frequently refers to the capitalist extraction of surplus value as theft. This argument is one important piece of evidence that Marx thought capitalism to be unjust. Marx insists that. paradoxically. Quite generally. also a main source for the view that Marx had no such conception. Each worker has the right to his own product. in which Marx makes an influential distinction between two stages of communism. is fair. This is the Critique o/the Gotha Program. almost any page in Capital. indeed. unlike cheating and fraud. opened at random. where Marx says that capitalism will disappear when labor recognizes that the products are its own and that its separation from the means of production is an injustice.

in this stage the principle of distribution is "To each according to his contribution. To reject one prin96 . The argument is self-defeating in an obvious way. Marx is arguing in prose against the possibility of speaking prose. For equal amounts of work a worker who has a family to support earns the same income as one who does not." In the higher stage this constraint disappears. the refusal to work unless paid a proportional wage. In a first stage people will still be dominated by a capitalist mentality. If the respects in which the individuals differ are relevant for the distribution of goods among them." The contribution principle. One who has the capacity to work harder or longer than others also earns more. that is. the springs of social wealth "flow more abundantly". Any code of justice must treat unequal individuals equally. His argument (somewhat reconstructed) that distribution according to rights is necessarily inadequate goes as follows. this represents a transition from a society governed by rights to a society in which rights and justice no longer have any role to play. Hence. Because a code must be written and explicit.Exploitation from capitalism. Two individuals who are alike in all the respects mentioned by the code could nevertheless differ in other respects. Human variety and diversity. according to Marx. including. to each according to his needs. Work itself becomes "the prime want" of life. one cannot ensure ahead of application of the code that it will invariably yield the right results. although that person's needs may be no greater than the needs of others. although their needs are clearly different. Because the range of potentially relevant features is also limitless. it can list qnly a finite number of properties. the code of justice will produce unjust results. The reference to "defects" in the contribution principle presupposes a normative criterion. and society can "inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability. A code of justice singles out various properties of persons as criteria for distributing goods among them. According to Marx. These defects are eliminated in the higher stage of communism. It embodies a bourgeois conception of formal rights that is insensitive to the actual needs of individuals. is flawed in a way that the needs principle is not. among other things. are limitless. on the other hand. a superior principle of justice.

work will still be drudgery and offer few opportunities for self-realization. people will still act on selfish motives. or it might hold only imperfectly. given the examples he adduces to refute the contribution principle. Implementing the needs principle under these conditions would be disastrous." Marx's analysis of communism condemns that very principle by appealing to the principle "To each according to his needs. which certainly cannot serve the function of refuting the possibility of a theory of justice. We are still left with another puzzle. Marx's analysis of capitalism condemns exploitation by appealing to the principle "To each according to his labor contribution. the correlation might not hold. In any given case. In the lower state of communism.Exploitation and Justice ciple Marx must appeal to another. because no one would be motivated to work 97 . Any attempt to approach perfect equality of welfare would probably defeat its purpose. A person with a physical handicap (for which he is not compensated) might live a much happier life than most people." The puzzle can be resolved by imputing to Marx a two-tier or hierarchical theory of justice. Moreover. Although Marx does not say in so many words what the latter amounts to. is that goods ought to be distributed so as to equalize welfare. This is a well-known theory of justice. The ideal or first-best conception is distribution according to needs. are able to see how far their achievements fall short of their ideals. because of the costs involved in an exact assessment of who needs what. much better than others. when it comes to implementing a theory of justice. people with extraordinary artistic or scientific gifts might live lives of misery because they. as if they were walking around with a "hedonometer" attached to them. one has to rely on a finite number of observable properties. Conversely. This is equally true for distribution according to needs. The valid core in Marx's argument is that. The welfare ofindividuals cannot be observed directly. Distribution must be regulated by observable features of individuals that are known to have a general correlation with the ability to achieve welfare. The contribution principle is assessed in light of the needs principle. as it emerges out of capitalism. the most natural interpretation. Such examples show only that when applying a theory of justice it is absurd to search for fine-tuned perfection.

This kind of situation probably does not arise frequently. first. 98 . There would be.Exploitation hard. It could then happen that the first does not even work up all his capital. but there is nothing wildly improbable about it. More relevantly. Here are two counterexamples. one might argue against the theory itself. it is a violation of the contribution principle that cannot be justified by the needs principle. Exploitation is condemned by the first-best as well as by the second-best principle of distributive justice. Consider first an interaction between two individuals who differ in two respects. although it also violates equality by allowing equal pay for unequal needs. that the needs principle itselfis indefensible. The poor person. One might object. It promotes equality because it prescribes equal pay for equal work. the other has the opposite priority. exploits the rich person. One may appeal to other of his writings to argue that he did not hold any theory of justice. The theory I have constructed. that it is not the best pragmatic approximation to the needs principle. whereas the second has used up hers. The second would then offer to sell her labor power to the first. that exploitation is not inherently wrong. It is a pragmatic or second-best approximation to the ideal of equal welfare. can be challenged on many grounds. The contribution principle tells us that exploitation is always and inherently unjust. Although both have some capital. this is what the contribution principle does. The one who has less capital likes to have a lot of leisure but does not care much about income. in fact. a Prisoner's Dilemma: All would benefit by all working hard. one has more than the other. and third. It would be contrary to all our intuitions to say that the poor person is acting objectionably. that the contribution principle does not allow us to understand what is wrong about exploitation. on the basis of some of Marx's writings. second. I have given my reasons for thinking that this argument cannot be decisive. It demonstrates. in other words. I think conclusively. but without a link between individual contribution and individual reward all would prefer to shirk. If an able-bodied capitalist earns an income without working. To overcome this problem one must create a link between effort and reward.

A better pragmatic compromise . when objectionable. and nobody else is harmed. Exploitation. These counterexamples do not show that exploitation. whereas the other spends all his current income. coercion. in the typical case. is so because of specific features of the situation that are not always present. Exploitation in history has almost always had a thoroughly unclean causal origin. is not a good tool for finetuned investigations into the morality of capitalism. Actual cases will be less clear-cut.one that takes account of the selfish motivations of most individuals . After some time the first has accumulated more capital than she can profitably use. She will offer the other to work for her. therefore.is John Rawls's proposal that institutions ought to be arranged so as to make the worst-off as well off as possible. The example suggests that exploitation is legitimate when the unequal capital endowments have a "clean" causal history. Or one might advocate the slightly different proposal that inequalities of welfare are to be tolerated as long as they make everybody better off. One of them is more willing to postpone consumption than the other. True. Nor is it a very good approximation to the ideal of equality of welfare. The contribution principle. or unequal opportunities. what is wrong about "capitalistic acts between consenting adults"? Both benefit from the transaction. he will be exploited . Nor do they detract from the usefulness of the notion in broader historical analyses. at a wage that exceeds what he could gain by himself. is not morally objectionable. Both of these are more in the spirit of welfare egalitarianism than the contribution principle.but who cares? In Robert Nozick's phrase.Exploitation and Justice The second counterexample is more controversial but also more relevant for real-life problems. Further work ought to focus on these features while continuing to study exploitation as an important special case. Because that principle does not allow for redistributive taxation. but I do not think one can block the argument by asserting that it will never apply in reality. in violence. Consider two persons who have the same skills and capital endowments but differ in the importance they attach to present as opposed to future consumption. What they show is that exploitation is not a fundamental moral concept. She will save part of her earning and accumulate more capital. it could 99 .

If some people have desires. preferences.of information. are irrelevant for the construction of an ideal theory. but this is not the objection I want to pursue here. the principle "To each according to his needs. for which people ought justly to be compensated. Through a combination of material abundance and the elimination of needs that are inherently insatiable. with respect to any given structure. they would have to get a disproportionate amount of society's scarce resources." It is sometimes argued that by satisfaction according to needs Marx meant that each and every person would be able to satisfy each and every need to the point of satiation. It is hard to accept that this would be a fair allocation. Rather. or something like it. when they wanted it. There are many problems . Take. The comparison is admittedly somewhat artificial. there is a general presumption in favor of equality that places the burden of proof on its opponents. or plans that are very expensive to realize. it would be true that Rawls's principle. because Marx's description of the first stage of communism has too little structure to allow us to deduce what the distributions of income and welfare could look like. motivation. individuals would be able to take what they wanted. would yield the best approximation to equality of welfare. and decision costs . As a first-best theory of justice. income and other resources matter only to the extent that they provide us with welfare. I want to point to one consequence of welfare egalitarianism that seems to run strongly counter to our ethical intuitions. In reply one might want to question the relevance of a theory that is so ideal that it has to abstract from some of the most fundamental features of the human condition. one might argue. tastes. finally.Exploitation lead to quite large welfare inequalities. There is some textual evidence for imputing this extremely utopian conception to Marx.that stand in the way of untrammeled equality of welfare. An expensive taste is not like a handicap. that view is very attractive. from the common stock of goods. Welfare is what we care about directly. but these. Society must reserve itself the right to warn its members that if they develop expensive tastes they will 100 . Also. Yet. but I believe that it is not only more charitable but also more plausible to interpret the needs principle as a statement of welfare egalitarianism.

The best treatments of exploitation are found in a book and several articles by John Roemer: A General Theory of Exploitation and Class (Harvard University Press." Philosophy and Public Affairs 12 (1983): 3-33. the Soviet Economy. BIBLIOGRAPHY Introduction. An exposition of the neoclassical theory of exploitation is found in M. A. because the scarce resources can now be used to greater effect. Fenoaltea. As a result. Self-Management: Economic Theory and Yugoslav Practice (Cambridge University Press. Estrin. The involuntary character of feudal exploitation is argued in S. "Unequal exchange. labour migration. Desai (ed. 1982). and force. social. "Coercive wage offers. pp. Exploitation in history. and Central Planning: Essays in Honor of Alexander Ehrlich (MIT Press. Cohen.). 1981). reprinted in his Melanges Historiques (Paris: SEVPEN. (1982): 28l-313. "Property relations vs surplus-value in Marxian exploitation. M. "Should Marxists be interested in exploitation?" Philosophy and Public Affairs l4 (1985): 30-65. The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (Duckworth. Detailed analyses of the modalities of feudal exploitation are found in several articles by Marc Bloch. and D. Zimmerman. and international capital flows: a theoretical synthesis. 34-60. 1983)." Philosophy and Public Affairs 11. An outstanding study of exploitation in classical antiquity is G. A further consequence is that people will on the whole achieve higher welfare levels. Income Distribution Theory (Macmillan." Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (1981): 121-45. Lieberman and M. Syrquin. E. "The structure of proletarian unfreedom." in P. Some data on income inequality under market socialism are found in S." Journal of Economic History 35 (1975): 386-409.Bibliography not be able to satisfy them to the extent needed to guarantee equality of welfare. "On the use and abuse of rights. An imaginative and stimulating discussion of economic. 1961). Croix. de Ste. A useful typology of forms of economic coercion is Y. Bronfenbrenner. The question of whether workers are forced (or coerced) to sell their labor power is discussed in G. Exploitation. 1983). "The rise and fall of a theoretical model: the manorial system. people will on the whole cultivate less expensive tastes than if their satisfaction had been underwritten by society (to the extent compatible with equal welfare for all). Marxism. 1971)." Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 46 (l983): 25-40.jreedom. An analysis of exploitation among nations is J. and politi- 101 . Roemer.

Exploitation· cal aspects of exploitation in nineteenth-century England is Karl Polanyi. 1974). B. The two books that figure prominently in the foreground or background of discussions of this problem are J. Arthur and W. L. "Robert Nozick and Wilt Chamberlain. Williamson. Cohen. Good discussions of some specific substantive problems include Roemer. 1984). Nozick. The role of trade unions in modern capitalism is well explained in R. 246-62. M. An extensive criticism of welfare egalitarianism is R." in J. Freeman and J. Marxism and Morality (Oxford University Press. "Understanding the employment relation: the analysis of idiosyncratic exchange. Dworkin. 1978). State. 1971). 1957). What Do Unions Do? (Basic Books. 1985). and G. Wachter. Rawls. A Theory 0/ Justice (Harvard University Press. Buchanan. Recent book-length treatments of the place of moral theory in Marxism include A. Medoff. Justice and Economic Distribution (Prentice-Hail. and S. Shaw (eds. Lukes. Exploitation and justice. 1982). A." Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (1981): 185-246. Marx and Justice (Methuen. Their book can be usefully supplemented by O. 102 .). Anarchy." Bell Journal of Economics 6 (1975): 250-80. "What is equality? Part 1: Equality of welfare. pp. and Utopia (Blackwell. and R. and J. Harris. The Great Trans/ormation (Beacon Press. "Should Marxists be interested in exploitation?".

Not unsurprisingly. and unity-with-differentiation. or flaw. the speculative. related flaw is that he does not spell out why men should have an incentive to change the property relations when and because the existing ones cease to be optimal for the development of the productive forces. alienation. In one 103 . ultimately. it will not involve qualitative transformations of the social structure. is a set of macrosociological generalizations about the causes of stability and change in societies. Historical materialism is an investigation of the middle stage. Although there may be development and change in communism. which has come to be known as historical materialism. offers a scheme for interpreting all historical events in terms of their contribution to realizing the end of history . the stages are referred to as primitive unity. A major gap. in Marx's theory of history is that he does not provide a plausible mechanism to connect the thirst for surplus labor with the development of the productive forces. The former. teleological thinking impinges on the empirical part of the theory. largely of Hegelian inspiration.in both senses of that tenn. the historical class societies. Communism is both the goal of history and the point at which it comes to rest. for preparing communism.6 HISTORICAL MATERIALISM INTRODUCTION M ARX had both an empirical theory of history and a speculative philosophy of history. class society. The speculative conception involves a division of history into three stages: preclass society. Another. and especially on the view that the successive sets of property relations in history are nothing but instruments for promoting technical change and thus. and postclass society. The latter. In a different terminology.

The first is about what all modes of production have in common with each other. by far the most important part of his work. about how they differ. By the thickness of the lines in the accompanying table. it is a general theory of the structure and dynamics of any mode of production. the central concepts can be elucidated only if we go to Marx's Writings on economic history. In the economic basis we find the relations of production (essentially: property forms) and the productive forces (essentially: technology). in sheer quantitative terms. He also wrote a great deal about the politics and ideology of capitalism and about precapitalist economic fonnations. Then follow the better-known forms of slavery. and politics. disconnected passages in The German Ideology. The general theory is set out in one long. on the other hand. In particular. I have tried to indicate how much Marx wrote about these various aspects of historical development. it is a theory of the historical sequence of modes of production. The economic study of capitalism is. Each of these modes of production has an economic basis and a political and ideological superstructure. On the one hand. however. Marx's teleological bent made him think he could dispense with microfoundations. Marx's theory is very unevenly balanced. There is very little about superstructural phenomena in precapitalist societies. Because it is formulated at a very high level of abstraction. we encounter two disconcerting facts. serfdom.Historical Materialism word. the second. On some points Marx has almost nothing to say. There. class struggle. superstructure relations of production productive forces Slavery superstructure relations of production productive forces Serfdom superstructu re relations of production productive forces Capitalism superstructure relations of production productive forces The first of the historical modes of production is the Asiatic one. Asiatic m.p. and capitalism. terse paragraph in the preface to A Critique of Political Economy and in various rambling. Historical materialism has two sides to it. the paucity of 104 .o. based on state ownership of land.

It is. what he says appears to be in flat contradiction with the general theory. of course. where Marx does have something to say. The rise and fall of successive property regimes are explained by their tendency to promote or fetter tech105 . THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PRODUCTIVE FORCES Historical materialism is not simply a theory that accords a privileged place to economic factors. Instead of the periodization of history into four modes of production based on different forms of exploitation. that he gave us three glimpses of one and the same development. Finally. Even taken separately. In the absence of a coherent reconstruction. there is the account that dominates in the Grundrisse and Capital: History is the process whereby isolated pro· ducers begin to trade with each other. Then there is the equally well-known story set out in the preface to A Critique of Political Economy: What history is all about is the development of the productive forces. We are told three different stories about historical development.The Development of the Productive Forces writings on precapitalist politics makes it very difficult to reconstruct a general Marxist theory of the relation between economics and politics. they form a bewildering and confusing picture. a form of technological determinism. more specifically. For another. There is the story summarized in the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto: All history is the history of class struggle. these accounts are shot through with ambiguities and. that Marx was fully in control of what he was doing. Taken together. the general theory of what drives the transition from one mode of production to another is not borne out by Marx's historical and political writings. but others arise at the very core of the theory. sometimes. The most disturbing feature of Marx's historical theories and writings is their lack of integration with one another. to produce for exchange and ultimately for surplus. seen from different vantage points. Some of these inconsistencies are not very serious. It could be. the concept of a mode of production is less central in his historical works than one would expect. On other points. For one thing. Marx punctuates history into various stages of the rise and fall of the market. inconsistencies. it seems more plausible that he suffered from a severe lack of intellectual control.

backed by state power. Later the correspondence turns into a contradiction. for a while. for instance.) Technology. which. Increasing technical sophistication may be offset. The presence of domestic slaves. Because external conditions may change. also counts sheer manpower as a productive force. but Marx's is not one of them. the same goods can be produced with less human labor. the productive forces can be taken to mean everything that promotes the mastery of man over nature. but inconsistently with his general theory. 106 . underwritten by private violence or by a dominant ideology. Within each mode of production. there initially obtains a correspondence between the relations of production and the productive forces.Historical Materialism nical change. by depletion of exhaustible resources. In societies with a weak central power the relations of production may just amount to effective control. They include only property of productive forces. Also. The development of the productive forces is measured by the degree to which. because such slaves are consumption goods rather than productive assets. reestablish the correspondence. such development need not bring about an actual reduction in necessary labor time and human drudgery. Marx sometimes. under constant external conditions. this is expressed as follows. There are forms of technological detenninism that give prime importance to the means of destruction. In a full statement of Marx's theory we must take account both of the actual level of productivity and of the hypothetical level that would be reached under constant external conditions. science. (Thus military technology is not included among the productive forces. for the purpose of want satisfaction. The relations of production are roughly what in non-Marxist language is called property rights. and human skills are the most important productive forces. is not sufficient to create the relations of production characteristic of slavery. relations of production need not take the form of legal ownership. In Marx's language. which causes "an epoch of social revolution" and the setting up of new relations of production. that stops others from taking over. For most purposes. with a few nuances. or even from wanting to take over. for example.

The answer to the last question allows us. Now there is no set of relations of production that is optimal for the development of the productive forces under all conditions. therefore. as a by-product. will eventually become a superior framework for developing the productive forces. in part or in whole? Do they own their nonlabor means of production. simply. be stated in terms of the development of the productive forces. however. This need not imply stagnation. and capitalism. They cannot. we must know the answer to the following questions. not 107 . under communist conditions. or between private-property capitalism and state capitalism. in addition. The relations of production are also what distinguish the modes of production from one another. according to Marx. the absence of correspondence. These material conditions include a large surplus that will make work a matter of free choice rather than necessary drudgery. simple commodity production. A contradiction between forces and relations of production means. The contradiction sets in when the rate of technical change is smaller than it could have been. This is not quite accurate. What relations are in fact optimal depends on specific historical circumstances. consider the reason why communism. is the owner an individual or a collectivity? Answers to the first two questions allow us to distinguish among slavery. A set of relations of production corresponds to the productive forces when it is optimally suited to develop the latter. On a first approximation we may say that the level of development of the productive forces determines what relations are optimal for their further development. Do the immediate producers own their labor power. because a high level of their development is compatible with a low level of actual productivity. serfdom. The material conditions created by capitalism will. To see why. in part or in whole? If they do not. to distinguish between serfdom and the Asiatic mode of production.The Development of the Productive Forces To describe the relations of production in a given society. allow the full and free self-realization of the individual and. an unprecedented expansion of the productive forces. There is contradiction when the existing relations of production are less efficient at developing the productive forces than some other relations would be.

this is an unsupported functional explanation. they do not provide applications and clarifications of the general theory. All of this amounts to saying that the notion of a contradiction between forces and relations of production is very much a theoretical concept. subject to uncertainty and independent of his participation in the collective action. There is no suggestion that each of the three 2 Thus one would be doubly mistaken in thinking that a contradiction can be immediately detected by a decline in the actual surplus. the benefits of a change in the property regime are remote in time. There are good reasons for thinking that it will be hard to come up with such an account. First. From the point of view of the individual economic agent. Marx owes us an account of how the less than optimal character of the existing relations of production motivates individual men to collective action for the purpose of ushering in a new set of relations. Second. they act for goals and motives of their own. Men are not the puppets of history. better suited to the historical task of developing the productive forces. When we turn to Marx's writings on the historical modes of production. Being obsolescent.Historical Materialism when it becomes smaller than it was previously. Any mode of production stimulates a development of the productive forces that will lead to its own obsolescence. in which it is compared with the development that would have taken place under different relations of production. one cannot assume without further argument that it will be fulfilled. the development of the productive forces can be assessed only by a thought experiment. The only substantive assertion in this argument is the claim that a change in the relations of production occurs when and because the existing relations cease to be optimal for the development of the productive forces. in which the performance of the new technology under the given external conditions is compared with its performance under the previous conditions (when it did not actually exist). Even when there is a "need" for new relations of production. will take its place.2 What causes the contradiction is the development of the productive forces that took place during the period when the relation was one of correspondence. A change in the relations of production occurs when and because the existing relations cease to be optimal for the development of the productive forces. 108 . it will then be thrown on the scrap heap of history and a new one. As it stands. the optimal or suboptimal rate of that development can be assessed only by another thought experiment.

along with the destruction of the military power of the feudal nobility. The destabilizing element in the ancient world was not the development of the productive forces but the growth of population. the discovery ofthe New World. the development of the productive forces plays only a tertiary role. In this story. 109 . on the other hand. it was most efficient to assemble the workers in one place. and the compass. this institution also lent itself to technical change. first somewhat hesitantly and then at an ever-increasing rate. the factory.The Development of the Productive Forces precapitalist modes of production divides into a progressive stage. For these purposes. On the contrary. merchants and producers found that they could increase their surplus by organizing production on a capitalist basis. In this new constellation. Marx's account of the transition from feudalism to capitalism is very complex. The surplus extraction took place. and a regressive stage. landless proletariat and. the accumulation of capital from overseas activities. in which the correspondence becomes a contradiction. A tentative summary of his thought. could be the following. but this is clearly inconsistent with the general theory. The prior transformations of the economy that made capitalist relations optimal did not include technical change. by lowering the real wage. compared to the medieval period. Sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth century the European economies had become unrecognizably changed. Population growth. The necessary conditions were. increasing the intensity of work. Once created. and extending the length of the working day. the printing press. were the main causes of this transformation. the invention of modern techniques of warfare. At times Marx appears to have thought of population as a productive force. or at least one major strand in it. Population growth does not lead to an increase in production per capita. so that its growth could be taken as an instance of the development of the productive forces. the creation of a free. with the exception of the invention of gunpowder. but it also appears to be inconsistent with the general theory. Marx says over and over again that technology was essentially unchanging from antiquity to the early modern period. essentially. in which the relations of production correspond to the productive forces. although it may lead to an increase in total production (and in total surplus). on the one hand.

According to current theories of revolution (and to common sense). he would have to argue that the workers will be motivated by the prospect of a communist society that will allow for technical change at an even higher rate. because it immediately provides a link to the motivation of individual economic agents. There are two suggestions in Marx about how to overcome this problem. Rather. it does at least create a link between the introduction of capitalist relations and increases in productivity. he could not argue that capitalism was moribund because stagnating. The development of the productive forces occurs only as a by-product of the introduction of capitalist relations and not in the explanation of why they came to be introduced. that is. 3 Consider. Marx might argue. finally. In this case the general theory becomes especially implausible. or both. People revolt when things are getting worse or when their expectations of improvement are not fulfilled. One is by dropping the second half of the requirement that communism will come about "when and because" communism becomes better suited for the further development of the productive forces. but it is not. capitalist relations were not introduced because they were optimal for the development of the productive forces but because they allowed for a higher surplus at a given technical level. Because Marx insisted that technical change in capitalism was accelerating rather than slowing down. Marx's account of the impending transition from capitalism to communism. to repeat.Historical Materialism except for improvements in the means of destruction. but when things go well they do not take to arms simply because of the abstract possibility of a society in which things could go even better. The3 One modification must be added. 110 . this is a highly unlikely motivation. consistent with it. that the communist revolution will be caused by something other than the contradiction between the forces and relations of production but will still coincide in time with the emergence of that contradiction. Although one would not normally refer to this as a form of technical change. both in agriculture (through the enclosures of land) and in industry. One way in which capitalist organization of production increased the surplus was by exploiting economies of scale. Moreover. This is a more plausible account than the general theory.

Indeed. The profit motive is one way of generating technical change. First. The productive forces are badly utilized when workers are unemployed. there is a search for new techniques and methods. what reasons we have for thinking that a communist society would be superior to capitalism when it comes to technical change. The process of innovation may be dissected into two stages. Marx argued that capitalism was consistently inferior to communism with respect to the second stage. and goods produced meet no effective demand. because the profit motive could lead capitalists to reject socially desirable innovations. machinery lies idle. "societies are not so rational in building that the dates for proletarian dictatorship arrive exactly at that moment when the economic and cultural conditions are ripe for socialism. were it to occur. The second suggestion is that communism comes about when capitalism becomes inefficient with respect not to the development but to the use of the productive forces. Although the general theory does not warrant the description of such phenomena as a contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production. The latter. Marx referred to them by such phrases and invoked them in his theory of the imminent downfall of capitalism." Indeed.The Development of the Productive Forces oretical argument and historical experience suggest that this happy coincidence is unlikely. The most fundamental question is. The objection to this procedure is that there is no guarantee that a society in which the productive forces are more efficiently used will also allow for a higher rate of their development. the opposite seems to be true. He argued that up to a certain point capitalism was superior to communism with respect to the first stage. there is the selection of one of the techniques thrown up by the search (or the retention of the old technique if no preferred technique is found). a society must be so backward that any revolution. spontaneous self-realization is another. next. Joseph Schumpeter argued that the dynamic efficiency of capitalism is inseparable from its static inefficiency. In Trotsky's phrase. so that any attempt to reduce the waste and irrationality of capitalism would also slow it down. To be a breeding ground for revolution. III . Free. of course. would be premature from the point of view of the development of the productive forces.

one would have to argue that communism was introduced prematurely in these countries and that the historical experience does not constitute an objection to a theory whose central premise is that it should not be introduced before superiority to capitalism is achieved or within reach. Even Marx is capable of such trite statements as "The Middle Ages could not live on Catholicism. because this is the dominant stage in the process. The experience of the communist countries suggests that they are clumsy and inefficient both in making use of the productive knowledge they have and in developing new knowledge. but it becomes feasible only at a high level of development of the productive forces. though in a sense undeniable. on the one hand. Economic activities. nobler activities. To think otherwise. it seems more reasonable to reject both parts of Marx's contention. capitalism is superior with respect to the intensity of search and. though evil. or defended by. dann kommt die Moral" ("Food before morals"). Schumpeter accepted Marx's argument with respect to the selection efficiency of communism but rejected it with respect to the search efficiency. they form a necessary prerequisite for other. these trivially true claims. superior with respect to the net outcome of the two stages. On the other hand." The first step toward an understanding of the relation between the economic base and the political and intellectual superstructure is to see that it cannot be reduced to. This observation.Historical Materialism when feasible. is superior. Today. The base-superstructure theory is not an assertion that for there 112 . when men are freed from drudgery. BASE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE What is "base" is both lowly and fundamental. Before that level is reached. nor the ancient world on politics. is idling as long as one does not provide solid reasons for thinking that there exists a level of the productive forces at which capitalism ceases to become optimal for their further development. have often been seen as a dirty business that no self-respecting man wants to get mixed up with if he can avoid it. The history of materialism is full of such homely truths as Ludwig Feuerbach's "Der Mensch ist was er isst" ("Man is what he eats") or Berthold Brecht's "Erst kommt das Fressen.

Far from being trivially true. This fact. and property rights are explained by the fact that they give an impetus to technical change. Political and intellectual phenomena have a considerable degree of autonomy. that between the forces and relations of production and that between base and superstructure. The legal. It asserts that the specific kinds of political and intellectual activities observed in class societies can be explained by reference to equally specific forms of economic organization. stronger claim .Base and Superstructure to be politics and ideologies at all there also has to be production. The weak claim would be substantiated by the independence of Protestantism. both are rendered in terms offunctional explanation. A. it is falsifiable and indeed false. just 113 . Cohen has proposed a powerful. The superstructure exercises its stabilizing influence on the relations of production even when they have ceased to be optimal for the further development of the productive forces. however. In non-Marxist language. must the explanation of their persistence be sought in the superstructure? This would appear to contradict the view that the superstructure is explained by its impact on the relations of production. This does not imply that the superstructure is explained by the fact that. The relations of production are explained through their beneficial consequences for the development of the productive forces.contribute to explaining economic phenomena. and intellectual superstructure is similarly explained through its beneficial consequence for the maintenance of the relations of production. When the relations of production are no longer explicable in terms of their impact on the productive forces. G. it gives an impetus to technical change.is Max Weber's suggestion that an independently arising Protestantism had a causal influence on the development of capitalism. An illustration . unified interpretation of the two central relations of historical materialism. that is. politics and ideas are explained by the fact that they stabilize property rights. the stronger claim. creates difficulties for the theory. Or should we say that nonfunctional relations of production are explained by the fact that they were once functional. They can also and note that this is a separate. political. the lack of an economic explanation. indirectly.whose correctness does not concern us here . On his account. if it was also shown that it enters into the explanation of economic phenomena.

one must first decide what to mean by "superstructure. If it could be shown. again. the superstructure might. Prior to empirical investigation. unscientific. were independently explained by their impact on the productive forces? That the superstructure. hence. one can mean all the phenomena that can be functionally explained by their stabilizing impact on the relations of production. or was it the other way around? It could also be: Given that Protestantism had a causal impact on capitalism. 114 . did it owe its emergence or persistence to that impact? To assess this view. the fact that the superstructure has a causal impact on the base does not exclude that the former could be explained by the latter. this statement is unfalsifiable and. Hence the disagreement between Marx and Weber need not be: Did Protestantism exercise a causal influence on capitalism. would accord a more independent role to the superstructure than can be easily accommodated within the theory. which. after a certain point. for all we know. as in the somewhat paranoid explanations of certain Marxists who have explained the most unlikely phenomena .from criminal behavior to the doctrines of other Marxists immediately to their left or right . at that time. that Protestantism arose or persisted because of its favorable impact on capitalist relations of production.Historical Materialism as nonfunctional properties of organisms are explained by the fact that they were functional in an earlier. it cannot keep artificially alive forever what has lost the right to live. different environment? That answer runs into a disanalogy between biology and history: There are no forces that actively resist adaptation in biology. In the absence of a theory to circumscribe the limits of the long run. On Cohen's interpretation of Marx. keeps alive what kept it alive? This. The Marxist response tends to be that the superstructure turns out to be weaker "in the long run".by their stabilizing impact on capitalist domination. as the superstructure does in society. Or it might tum out to include everything noneconomic. in Weber's example. it would be explained by economic facts beyond itself." First. be empty. Or should we say that the existence of a superstructure that explains the persistence of nonfunctional relations of production is itself explained by the fact that it arose at an earlier time to stabilize the relations of production.

Base and Superstructure Second. I think the second definition accords best with the Marxist tradition. they can undermine their economic power by abuse of their political power. one might simply define the superstructure as all noneconomic phenomena. their distorted beliefs. the superstructure could be defined as the set of phenomena that can be explained . Although this arrangement was not optimal for the relations of production. If we can demonstrate that a set of widely held beliefs arises directly out of certain economic interests. for instance. of politics in ancient Rome. Perhaps surprisingly. Third. beliefs born of passion serve passion badly. Sometimes the distribution of political power derives in an immediate. even if those beliefs do not serve the latter. transparent way from the distribution of economic resources: The economically dominant class concentrates political power in its own hands.functionally or otherwise . this arrangement can work against the interest of the class. Of these. For another example. although explained by the relations of production. The definition sometimes goes together with the view that the superstructure. this would include such facts as the following. most Marxists would probably relegate them to the superstructure. This procedure is unsatisfactory. If they fall victim to short -tenn greed. the economic base. ex115 . In addition to the phenomena covered by the first definition. for instance. first define a phenomenon as superstructural on the grounds that it is noneconomic and then simply assume that it can be explained by economic phenomena because the superstructure must be supported by something more fundamental. it is still explained by them. because it easily lends itself to verbal juggling. One may. In the phrase of the French historian Paul Veyne. consider the tendency of beliefs to become distorted by class interest or class position. one must at least take care not to prejudge the question of whether the superstructural phenomena are dependent on the economic base. thus defined. If this definition is adopted. do not reinforce them.in tenus of the economic structure of society. This was the pattern. at the expense of public goods and defense. where the powerful senatorslandowners used state revenues as an additional source of income. When the victims of this tendency are members of the economically dominant class.

The contrast with the first definition. there is no answer. in different social roles. Most probably. in any society in which the state bureaucracy is the main exploiting class. 116 . Because Marx wrote so little about superstructural phenomena in precapitalist societies. it is impossible to reconstruct an answer to this puzzle from his writings. adopted by Cohen. If there are. A conceptual problem arises in the Asiatic mode of production and. The important substantive issue involved is whether there are phenomena that fall under the second definition but not under the first. politics is everywhere. one can be a worker and also a voter. a businessman and also a member of parliament. and capitalists took little interest in politics. In such societies the base-superstructure distinction is immediately meaningful.Historical Materialism hausts all noneconomic phenomena. albeit more tenuously. A cause and its effect must be distinct entities. in societies where economic and political power coincide immediately. excluded from politics. The theory of base and superstructure is a generalization from societies where it is at least meaningful (which is not to say that it is true) to other societies in which it cannot even be coherently stated. more generally. In this society there is no independent set of economic relations that determines the political superstructure. it cannot be taken as the privileged form of explanation in historical materialism. Marx lived and wrote in a society in which economic and political activities were extremely dissociated. The distinction breaks down. It also makes some sense. Similarly. in societies where the same people are involved in both economics and politics. in ancient Athens slaves were. In mid-nineteenth-century England they were carried out by two distinct sets of people: Workers did not vote. If there are not. Contemporary Soviet Russia is a dramatic example. as were the foreigners who carried on trade and commerce. Here the relations of production appear to coincide immediately with the political relations . however. functional explanation would indeed be as central to Marxism as claimed by Cohen. is not just a Question of words. In modem capitalist societies.so that it is difficult to see how the latter could be explained by the former. as seems undeniable."rent and tax coincide" . of course.

an argument is needed to show that they are not a mere coincidence. As the producers become increasingly separated from their means of production. Separation is carried to the extreme in 117 . Marx's three-stage philosophy of history illustrates the pattern "One step backward. So do various geometrical analogies. the rise and fall of empires in an unchanging cycle. growth. and then one more step forward". This is not to say that there are no such patterns in history. maturity. the spiral can be seen either as "one step backward. Patterns must be explained: They do not provide an explanation of anything." Depending on one's perspective. They made it legitimate to explain history from above rather than from below. and death present themselves immediately. It involves the idea of a cycle superimposed upon a linear trend. it is tempting to assimilate it to other." As practiced especially by nineteenth-century writers. The organic metaphors of birth. if there are. as the unintended consequence of the behavior of individuals acting for goals of their own. which allow us to see history as linear. that is. decay. one step backward. Historical materialism asserts that the successive stages in this destruction are also the carriers of an uninterrupted development of the productive forces. uninterrupted progress. one step backward. that they can be expected to arise. these analogies had a disastrous influence. The linear model can be summarized as "one step forward. or spiral. They distracted attention from the task of grounding historical processes in the actions and motivations of individual men and focused instead on ways of fitting the changes into some wider pattern. circular. The line underlies images of history as based on constant. of history repeating itself at ever-higher levels. The circle corresponds to visions of the eternal return. under a wide range of circumstances. their labor becomes more productive." The primitive communities must be destroyed before community can be re-created at a higher level. One must show. only that. The spiraL is a more complex notion. known phenomena. two steps forward" or as "two steps forward.The Stages of HistoricaL DeveLopment THE STAGES OF HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT To impose some order on the chaotic appearance of historical change. the circular view as "one step forward. two steps forward.

for instance. and exchange any surplus products they might have. the significance of the successive modes of production? Granted the necessity of capitalism. The transition to the second stage occurs when members of different communities accidentally come into contact with each other. There is no trade or reinvestment of a surplus. at their borders. In the Grundrisse and in Capital Marx argues that the module of historical development is the rise and fall of the market.Historical Materialism capitalism. The long-distance trade then reacts back upon the community itself. What is. was each of the three precapitalist modes of production an equally necessary step in the development of humanity toward communism? Marx seems committed to an affirmative answer but does not really offer any arguments for it.why serfdom could not have given rise to capitalism without a prior stage of slavery.e stage of slavery. is 4 It is tempting to see an ironical pattern in the recent tendencies toward market production in the communist countries: Would Marx have said that we are witnessing the third occurrence of the sequence? 118 . which is also the stage in which the development of the productive forces reaches its highest level.to anticipate what he might have responded . it appears to be punctuated by five main stages. This process occurs twice in the history of mankind. The puzzle becomes even more complicated when we tum to a quite different periodization of history. in the fourth stage. the second time. The fifth stage. which Marx employs alongside the sequence of modes of production. with feudalism and capitalism. This stage is also marked by the emergence of money. Although Marx's descriptions of the sequence fluctuate somewhat. so that. finally. an internal market is created. In the third stage trade becomes regular and predictable: There is now production for exchange. The first stage is production for immediate consumption within a small community of producers. 4 The first time it coincides with the Asiatic and the ancient modes of production. or . He does not. without the intermediat. within this general scheme. explain why the Asiatic mode of production could not by itself have changed into a more decentralized system of serfdom.

because slaves can be expected to treat the tools badly. Also. This story commits Marx to the existence of production for surplus in the ancient world. The most plausible answer. Marx refers to this stage as the result of the self-expansion of money. long-distance trade existed alongside local trade. He occasionally refers to the transformation of a patriarchal slave economy into one based on the production for surplUS. in the early modern period. perhaps. this does not seem to correspond to the historical experience. but a national market was not formed. Elsewhere he insists. he nowhere confronts the question of the breakdown of the ancient 119 . Marx raises the question of why capitalism based on wage labor did not develop in ancient Rome after the ruin of the small peasantry. the psychology of slaveowners is such that they prefer lUXUry consumption to productive investment of the surplus. on the obstacles that a slave economy creates for accumulation of surplus. not as a more or less automatic consequence of foreign trade. not just to consume it. is that capitalism did not arise because there was no competitive national market. Nor does Marx explain why slavery gave rise to serfdom. but he does not really offer an explanation. internal trade changes the latter into production for surplus. Slow transportation restricted exchange to local markets and international trade in a few lUXUry goods (and grain). In antiquity. also. In his Hegelian moments. If there had really been a fully developed internal market. Another dubious implication of the scheme is the idea that external trade not only occurs before internal trade but is a direct cause of it. capitalism would have been a more likely development. With slaves it makes little sense to invest in improved means of production. to the extent suggested by Marx. Remarkably. when the sequence occurs for the first time. it happened (as Marx also recognizes elsewhere) because of active state intervention. To summarize: External trade changes production for immediate consumption into production for exchange. By and large. It is defined not simply by the fact of exploitation but by the fact that the goal of exploitation is to increase the surplus. probably with more justification. it remains a puzzle why the sequence had to occur twice.The Stages of HistoricaL DeveLopment characterized by production for surplus. as before. When it was.

that Russia might be able to build communism directly on the basis of the communitarian village system without going through the capitalist Purgatory. the image of its future. If a country is too backward. indeed. The modes of production had to follow each other in a specific order. there is his suggestion. of course. presumably. the very existence of more developed countries creates a difference that makes simple repetition unlikely to succeed. Yet it is hard to deny that the more successful of the developing countries have followed the path of unbridled laissez-faire capitalism . there is a passage in one of the prefaces to Capital I where he says that "the country that is more advanced industrially only shows." On the other hand. to the less developed. This need not require the same process that was followed by the advanced countries. If there is any other path.Historical Materialism world. toward the . 120 . that slavery disappeared when and because it became inferior to serfdom as a framework for developing the productive forces. The general propositions of historical materialism imply.end of his life. the rise and fall of the market had to occur twice. each time through the same sequence of stages. no country has yet found it. Russia could employ the technology developed by the capitalist countries without itself having to follow in their steps. They have to be developed from within. The lesson from cases of successful or failed economic development in the last century seems to be that the position Marx took in Capital is the more plausible. will in time make it possible for them to dispense with that system. or whether he admitted the possibility that some countries might enjoy "advantages of backwardness" and skip one or more stages. On the one hand. but neither Marx nor any practicing Marxist historian to my knowledge has ever seriously considered this explanation. The rational utilization of borrowed technology requires a complex set of mental habits that cannot themselves be borrowed. It is less clear whether he thought that each country or nation-state had to go through the full sequence.a path that. it will not be able to make productive use of industrial technology. It is dear that Marx thought that mankind as a whole could not have skipped any of the stages in either sequence.

Feuerwerker (ed. see E. Rewriting Russian History (Praeger.Bibliography BIBLIOGRAPHY Introduction. pp.). On this problem Cohen's book is supplemented by two of his later articles: "Reconsidering historical materialism. "Can the base be distinguished from the superstructure?" in D. "What do bosses do?" in A. A. Soviet and Western Anthropology (Columbia University Press. 1966). which supersedes all earlier treatments." in E. After Marx (Cambridge University Press. Historiographic surveys of the difficulties met by Russian and Chinese communist historians in applying the Marxist theory of stages to their own countries include C. For a controversial account of the transition to capitalism that emphasizes surplus extraction rather than technical change. "A Russian Marxist philosophy of history. Black (ed.which is older than communism . Marx en Perspective (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. The Social and Political ThoU9ht of Leon Trotsky (Oxford University Press. A good conceptual discussion of Marxist periodizations of history is E. 1981). Boserup. Gerschenkron. The development of the productive forces. Ball and J. History in Communist China (MIT Press. Social and Political Thought of Trotsky. Base and superstructure. 1977). Marglin. 53-76. 1976). 1984).). Gellner (ed. 121 . The stages of historical development. pp. "Marxism's central puzzle. van Parijs. Cohen's account of the explanatory role of the productive forces is usefully supplemented by P. 1983). 1956). Gellner. and A. 54-82. The Nature of Political Theory (Oxford University Press. pp. see S.). Farr (eds." Nomos 26 (1983): 226-51. An influential discussion of the economic conditions for revolution is J. 1980). Gorz (ed. and "Restrictive and inclusive historical materialism. A very useful summary and discussion of Trotsky's views is B. 1978). "Towards a theory of revolution. A challenge to the possibility of distinguishing base and superstructure in any society is S. Discussions ofthe Russian dream . 13-54.). On the relation between development of the productive forces and population growth. 1968). The Division of Labour (Longman.). By far the best exposition of historical materialism is G. pp. and Knei-Paz. Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Harvard University Press. Miller and 1. Knei-Paz." in T.of enjoying the advantages of backwardness and bypassing capitalism include A. Siedentorp (eds. Lukes. Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford University Press. Chavance (ed. Cohen." American Sociological Review 27 (1962): 1-19. 103-20." in B. pp.). 1985). Davies. Population and Technological Change (University of Chicago Press. 88-104.).

Usually. of their members. sooner or later. there will be some individuals who. Finally. Let us focus on the respects in which their situation can only be collectively improved by the creation of public goods that are out of reach of individual effort. In any society there are organized groups trying to promote the interests. would seem to have a strong interest in some public good. the second group of people form an unstable category. objectively. created by relations of exploitation and domination in production. they do not experience it that way. Occasionally it is also resolved by adjusting one's beliefs so as to be able to think it possible to get what one wants. Objectively speaking. but this solution is inherently less stable. subjectively. The tension is usually resolved by reducing one's level of aspirations and adjusting one's set of values so as to give less importance to those that cannot be realized anyway. it is psychologically difficult to maintain a strong desire for something that manifestly is out of reach. broadly conceived. The strategies available to them are individual and collective betterment. Marx's theory of class begins with a certain set of objectively defined interests. they will tend to sink down to the third. people have an interest 122 . Of these. There will also be many individuals who have strongly felt interests in some public good or collective action but for various reasons are unable to join forces with other people with similar interests. although. In the long run. the accumulation of evidence against one's belief will force a readjustment of wants and desires. If they are unable to rise into the first.7 CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS AND CLASS STRUGGLE INTRODUCTION I T is a truism that people have an interest inbyimproving their situation.

albeit very scantily. his view that classes are the basic units in social conflict requires a definition that yields a small. and what purpose the concept is to serve in his wider theory. determinate. on the other. people who have moved up from the third to the second category and then move farther up into the first. When there are several organized classes with opposed interests. more sophisticated versions also turn out to be invalid. what groups he explicitly says are not classes. nationalistic. Although the centrality of class struggle in social change cannot be defended as a general proposition. his theory of exploitation and. For most of them. THE CONCEPT OF CLASS Marx never said in so many words what he meant by a class. and linguistic social movements. Classes cannot be defined by arbitrary cut-off points on a continuous scale: They have real existence as organized interest 123 . In particular. and nonarbitrary number of classes. His theory of class struggle in mid-nineteenth-century Europe remains one of his most impressive achievements.The Concept of Class in not being exploited and dominated. Next. on the one hand. the theory addresses the problem of class struggle. much more extensively. A crude version of this claim is that only class interests are capable of crystallizing into organized interest groups. It then investigates. Individual betterment by upward social mobility is an option for some but not for the great majority. especially when taken together with. The theory first addresses. because he claimed that in the final analysis all social conflict reduces to class struggle. Taken together. these analyses amount to a theory of class consciousness. ethnic. It is nevertheless possible to reconstruct a definition from his writings by taking account of what groups he refers to as classes. it was fairly plausible in Marx's time and place. what will the outcome be of their confrontation with one another? Marx argued that this is the central problem in understanding social change. this interest can be realized only by collective action. the Question of why some objective interests emerge as subjectively felt whereas others do not. Other. In the light of the persisting importance of religious. his theory of the capitalist state. the claim cannot be defended in this version.

though small. and journeyman under feudalism. even when they do. it is not by virtue of this fact that they belong to different classes. be it by the informal status criterion of honor or by the formal criterion of belonging to a legal order. Marx's reference to patricians and plebeians as distinct classes can only be seen as a lapse. With respect to the societies he did study. financial capitalists. we need to know whether his enumeration of classes is exhaustive or whether there could be others beyond those he cites. they need not do so. serf. lord. We cannot. 5 Although most of the 5 Another lapse in the list is the inclusion of freemen as a separate class.Class Consciousness and Class Struggle groups. and. simply define the concept of class by this list. Although members of different classes will. petty bourgeoisie. Of these. One possible criterion can be excluded at the outset: Marx tells us in so many words that classes are not differentiated by income. He also rejects the idea that classes can be distinguished by the occupations of their members. we need a general definition to check them against. as it does not specify the relation of the freeman to the other means of production. Finally. On the other hand. we want to be able to apply the concept to other societies than those studied by Marx. The notion is incomplete. the catego- 124 . we can exclude the idea that classes are differentiated by status. guild master. To decide whether the examples form a coherent set. or the exploiters and the exploited. earn different incomes. and patricians under slavery. neither is an economic concept. not just as constructs in the eye of the observer. because otherwise there would be no room for the class alliances that play an important role in his theory of class struggle. not the work itself. typically. We must. Once this is done. industrial capitalists. that is. besides his own labor power. however. slaves. It is essential to Marx's approach that the number of classes. in short. know by virtue of which properties these groups are classes. freemen. There are some fifteen groups that Marx refers to as classes: bureaucrats and theocrats in the Asiatic mode of production. plebeians. Also. landlords. The work context. is constitutive of class. peasantry. and wage laborers under capitalism. the first yields a cultural and the second a juridical distinction. class cannot be reduced to a dichotomous opposition between the haves and the have-nots. by the specific nature of the work they perform. must be greater than two.

On the one hand.three distinct classes rather than one. four more plausible definitions must be considered: property.is the rule. why individuals differ in such respects as deviance. the former. and status are the central concepts in the study of social stratification. occupation. because stratification theory and class theory have different purposes. health. at least if each of them claims to provide the whole explanation of the phenomena under study. who did not have a sociological theory in the modern sense of the term. 125 . ry subdivides into slaveowners.The Concept of Class plebeians were poor. In his dissection of capitalism the focus was almost exclusively on economic and political phenomena. independent producers. reconstructed definition. it must work equally well in market and nonmarket economies. it must be applicable both to societies in which the means of production are individually owned and to societies in which corporate ownership . occupation. or the large modern corporation . consumption. they are indeed incompatible. all turn out to be necessary elements in the final. on the other hand. exploitation. market behavior. and the propertyless free . This fact does not imply any inconsistency with Marxism. The latter addresses mainly the question of which organized groups will be the main actors in collective action and social conflict. At least this distinction is valid with respect to Marx himself. because of the variety of economic systems to which the definition is to be applied. Having rejected income. We begin with the case that most concerned Marx: market economies with individual ownership of the means of production. and domination. All have been seriously proposed by followers or scholars of Marx. state. at the expense of the texture and events of everyday life outside the work place. With the exception of exploitation. and status as criteria of class. To the extent that the concerns of the two approaches overlap. The task of reconstruction is difficult. some of them were indistinguishable from the patricians in all economic respects. In contemporary social science. income.by church. or marriage habits. Later attempts to create a Marxist sociology based on the concept of class have addressed some of the same issues as stratification theory.

class becomes a matter of the degree of exploitation. artisan. because this would not allow us to distinguish landlord. the concept. The criterion. It is too fine if agents are relegated to different classes according to the quantity of means of production they own. The credit market. Ownership of the means of production enters into this defi126 . because this would create an infinite fragmentation of classes. similarly. in market economies with private ownership ofthe means of production. to be useful in a theory of social struggle. A worker is someone who sells his labor power because he has to or. the petty bourgeoisie by those who do neither. class membership is defined by the ownership or lack of ownership of the means of production. this definition cannot be the whole story. Although they sell their labor power. although it surely is an important part of it. Market behavior is a more plausible criterion. more generally. and independent peasantry. gives too much weight to actual behavior and insufficient weight to the causes of the behavior.Class Consciousness and Class Stru99le Most frequently. nor does a self-proletarianized graduate student. Hence. it is either too coarse-grained or too fine-grained. For Marx's purpose. and the pattern of land ownership creates the classes of landowners. and peasant from each other. The working class is made up of those who sell their labor power. The concept of class. because this is the best way he can use his productive endowments. If. tenants. they are not forced to do so. by necessity and a common fate. It is too coarse if all agents who own some means of production beyond their own labor power are included in one class. ought only to group together those who are bound together. we fail to capture the subtleties of Marx's sixclass model of capitalism. gives rise to the classes of lenders and borrowers of capital. capitalist. becomes too finely differentiated. on the other hand. once again. the capitalist class by those who buy labor power. A member of a rich family who takes a job as a factory worker to see what life is like at the bottom does not thereby become a member of the working class. however. If all exploiters are included in one class and all exploited in another. Depending on how it is understood. A similar objection can be raised to the use of exploitation as a criterion of class. a class consists of individuals who must engage in similar market behavior if they want to make the best use of what they have.

to nonmarket economies with individual ownership of the means of production. they cannot do better for themselves. this is their best strategy. who both receive and give orders. as one. as a self-employed artisan. One cannot predict. middle managers. given their ownership. Such relations are the stuff of social conflict. Slaves and serfs work for others because. they are a natural extension of Marx's concept of class.is more plausible as a differentiating criterion. however. or as a small capitalist. One could distinguish. who are only at the receiving end of commands. we must go beyond Marx in one important respect. Exploitation does not provide a plausible dividing line. In market economies. Class would become an analytical construct. To understand their class structure. If the concept of class is to be of use in understanding social conflict. The same proposal immediately carries over to modern cap127 . for example. Economies with corporate ownership are more intractable. in full or in part. to think of the bureaucracy as a whole. Slaveowners and lords are surplus extractors because. the derivation is more indirect. Power . find that he can best make use of it as a worker. The criterion also applies. Marx suggests that the ruling class in the Asiatic mode of production and similar systems consisted of the government officials who based their rule on exploitation of the peasantry. would not know to which class he belonged. A subordinate bureaucrat would hardly be able to tell whether he received goods in excess of his labor time and. who only give orders. it must allow us to distinguish several classes within the bureaucracy. who will end up in which classes. It is implausible. among top managers. not part of social reality. of the labor power of others.relations of domination and subordination within a hierarchical chain of command . depending on the endowments of other agents. and subordinates. from mere inspection of who owns what. unitary class. more obviously (and trivially). from the emperor down to the doonnan of his dining room. A person who owns a little capital might. not directly but as what detennines which market behavior is optimal.The Concept of Class nition. The distribution of endowments generates the class structure in an immediate way. hence. Endowment-9enerated behavior becomes the criterion of class. given their lack of full property of their labor power.

128 . It follows from this analysis that the immediate relations between classes are of two kinds. even assuming that we knew why the latter earns five times as much as an unskilled worker. it would be absurd to make all employees of the corporation. They are both exploiters. but the latter does not exploit the former. managers. the classical Marxist analysis remains to some extent applicable. it can no longer be invoked as an indepen· dent variable explaining class position. and thus become co-owners of it. the majority. the giving and receiving of commands seem to be the most plausible criterion for draWing internal lines of class division within the corporate hierarchy. but not without strain. as simple subordinates.Class Consciousness and Class Stru99le italism. Once again. Given the objectives of Marx's theory. dominated by large. hierarchically organized corporations. When property is allocated as an incentive to perfonnance. It is not clear why an executive vice-president is worth ten times as much to the firm as its chief engineer. 6 Again. Similarly. as do various forms of "cultural capital" acquired in the family. to reduce the "principal-agent problem" that otherwise plagues the large corporation. These problems point to the need for a Marxist theory of the firm that takes proper account of career structures and hierarchical domination. and workers that differs in almost all important respects from the dichotomous conflict between capitalists and workers that concerned Marx. however. belong to the same c1ass. there is transfer of surplus from below. living off the labor of the workers they exploit. On the one hand. transfer of commands from above. Skills probably count for much. beyond the general problems that skilled labor poses for Marxist theory. Note that transfer of surplus is not the same as exploitation. the proposed criterion is too behavioral. The modern corporation rests on a triangular conflict of interests among shareholders. as 6 If high executives receive stocks in the corporation on top of their salary. These processes are still ill understood. We need to know by virtue of what assets some end up as top managers. Surplus is transferred from the capitalist tenant to the landowner. from the president down to the unskilled worker. and still others. others as middle managers. on the other. there can be transfer of surplus from one exploited agent to another. The enormous salaries commanded by top executives also present a puzzle.

In The German Ideology Marx puts his finger on the central obstacle to organized class action: the free-rider problem. presupposes that there is interaction between members of different classes. the landlord. If anything. Actually. Marx offered some comments on the emergence of class consciousness among the English workers and the lack of it among the French peasantry. CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS The concept of class. the word "theory" is too strong. Class conflict is. He also argued. typically. albeit very ambiguously. that the capitalist state is an expression of capitalist class consciousness. it is perhaps less likely to bring about far-reaching social change than Marx believed. More remote relations may be more relevant. exploited. Yet this is not the way the class struggle usually works. "If only the king knew!" Because the class struggle often has this myopic character. are able to organize in a collective defense of those interests. face-to-face confrontations. These observations provide triangulation points for the construction of a more general theory of class consciousness. by transfer of surplus or commands. the capitalist tenant. the remote enemy is seen as a potential alliance partner against the common opponent. This is even more clearly seen in hierarchical chains of command. "The attitude 129 . The theory of class consciousness attempts to explain under which conditions members of a class become aware that they have a common situation and interests and. It does not presuppose interaction among members of any given class or a consciousness of common interests. The assistants of the artisan ought perhaps to direct their struggle against the usurer who is exploiting their boss. moreover. There is a widespread tendency for the subjects in any bureaucratic society to direct their anger against the intermediate levels in the hierarchy and to absolve in advance the top level of any responsibility for their ills. The agricultural workers ought to see that behind their immediate enemy. is a more formidable enemy. but they do not by themselves amount to such a theory.Class Consciousness when an indebted artisan extracts a surplus from a few hired assistants and transfers it to his creditor while he himself remains. on the balance. caused by such immediate. as defined.

Napoleon III. and laws enforcing competition. A first condition for concerted. laws allowing expropriation of private property. that is. limited himself to the third. Explainin9 class consciousness amounts to explainin9 why members of a class choose the cooperative strate9Y in their Prisoner's Dilemma. but it is obvious enough that strikes. and revolution also are subject to free-rider problems. the last that of most historians or sociologists. He did not in equally explicit terms state the parallel dilemma for the working class. the information and the motivation that will induce class members to participate in collective action on behalf of their class. finally. was under the sway of idees napoleoniennes. by and large. Cooperation among class members can be studied in several perspectives. The small landed property had corresponded to the interest of the peasantry when it represented a liberation from feudal oppression. we may decide to short-circuit the subjective stage altogether and attempt to establish direct connections between social conditions and the propensity to cooperation. it cannot in general claim superiority. collective action is that the members of the class have a correct understanding of their situation and their interest. It no longer did so when urban usurers had emerged as the new exploiters of the peasantry. we may search for the further." Examples from Marx's writings include the regulation of the length of the working day.Class Consciousness and Class Stru99le of the bourgeois to the institutions of his regime is like that of the Jew to the law. "black-box" approach. Objectively. The first approach is that of the rational-choice theorist or the social psychologist. Or. social conditions under which the requisite subjective conditions will be forthcoming. whereas before they had found a 130 . Although this may in some cases be an appropriate response to the risk of premature reductionism. First. Next. we may inquire into the proximate. subjective conditions for cooperation. a conception of their interests that was adequate to the times of Napoleon I but no longer to those of his nephew. The second represents an ideal synthesis. The French peasantry around 1850. trade union formation. but he wants everybody else to observe them. Marx. for instance. the peasants' interest now lay in an alliance with the urban proletariat. as difficult to achieve as it is rewarding. he evades them whenever it is possible to do so in each individual case.

the workers were confused about the nature of their real enemy . they had a very diffuse notion of where their interest lay. He suggested that the presence of a government separate from capital and of internal cleavages in the working class could be explained by the fact that they provided a lightning rod to attract the anger of the workers and distract it from capital. implausibly. In an echo of Rousseau's "Quiconque est maitre ne peut etre libre. Marx's version of both arguments was excessively functionalist (or conspiratorial). outdated conception of their interest. overlapping conflicts it may be hard to discern the main or ultimate cause of oppression (assuming." The first argument is a special case of the more general assertion that in a society with multiple. however. which in part he imputed to their lack of understanding of their real interests. be retained without appealing to this assumption. Subjectively. they were distracted from the main enemy above them. Marx suggests that had it not been for the presence of the Irish. after the collapse of the Chartist movement. The arguments can. Around 1850.Capital or Government? Struggling simultaneously against political oppression and economic exploitation." Marx writes that "a people which subjugates another people forges its own chains. Having someone below them to despise. The mental frustration and tension generated by a state of subordination are eased by drawing the main dividing line in society below rather than above oneself. Because the capitalists did not themselves take political power but left its exercise to the class of aristocratic landowners. Around 1870. he explained their confusion by the fact that the workers were fighting a two-front war. they were unable to go beyond the ancient. that there is one ultimate cause that ex- 131 .Class Consciousness natural ally in the bourgeoisie. Marx was somewhat more optimistic with respect to the capacity of English workers to form an adequate conception of their interests. The second can be restated without any reference to the interests of capital and solely in terms of workingclass psychology. the English workers would have been more able to perceive their real interest and their real enemy. Yet he was also frustrated by their lack of revolutionary class consciousness. and not understanding that the former was only the extension of the latter. the two-front war was replaced by an argument from divide-and-conquer.

macrosociological correlations. are more robust. although less centrally. and the like. we are forced to go beyond the texts and offer some speculations based on recent work on collective action. as distinct from struggles against more remote opponents. Assuming that the class members have a correct understanding of their interests as a class. is an explanation of last resort and should be invoked only when one can specify the kind of irrationality that is at work. Finally. cooperation reflects a transformation of individual psychology so as to include feelings of solidarity. To choose among such explanations. organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. according to Marx. which seems more adequate to working-class collective action. cooperation is forthcoming because the members of a class engage in continuous or repeated interaction. Another special case is the salience of faceto-face confrontations. what motivations are needed to generate collective action? Because Marx has little to offer by way of an answer." On the other hand. the greater class consciousness of the English factory workers is due to the fact that they are "disciplined. This. fairness. On one account. explaining successful collective action in terms of social characteristics. than is usually possible to glean from the historical record. altruism. They cooperate out of hope of reciprocation or fear of retaliation in later interactions. one ought not to exclude that collective action can occur because members act irrationally. united. Marx mentions high turnover 132 . Conversely.Class Consciousness and Class Struggle plains all the others). was due to their geographical isolation from each other and the lack of means of communication. which seems especially appropriate to capitalist collective action. Marx emphasizes two such characteristics. however. over and above the public good it is intended to produce. more. the isolation or proximity of the members with respect to one another is an important factor in class consciousness. The impotence of the French peasantry. yet different account suggests that collective action ceases to become a Prisoner's Dilemma because members cease to regard participation as costly: It becomes a benefit in itself. Given the typical paucity of evidence. On the one hand. indeed. A related. one would need to know a great deal about the mental states of the individuals concerned. On another.

poverty creates an obstacle to collective action. The standard of living can also be assessed in relative terms. that influence the probability of collective action." which prevented them from solidifying into collective actors. by comparison with that of other groups or with some expected level. Whatever its plausibility as a theory of the state. which usually requires some resources. collective action is more likely to be generated by small inequalities than by large ones." There are other factors. opposed ways. indeterminate. On the one hand. quasinatural facts of the society in which one is living. in general. The free-rider problems arising within the exploiting and dominating classes will. be solved by the state. 7 The net effect of these two tendencies is. On the other hand. For one thing. the following two propositions have been widely accepted. is particularly important. First. Writing about Europe. revolutions are more likely to occur when conditions have begun to improve than when they are stably bad. The very poorest workers may have the strongest inducement to strike but are also less able to go without the wage for a long time. it is obviously incomplete as a theory of collective action. The absolute level shapes collective action in two. Marx suggested that classes in America were in a state of "constant flux. Since Tocqueville. because the very poor have "nothing to lose but their chains" (unless the ruling classes make it their business to ensure that they face a fate worse than death if they fail). in absolute and relative terms. according to Marx. because the latter are usually seen as immutable. poverty offers a strong inducement to collective action. This view will be discussed later. less heavily stressed by Marx. Like Tocqueville. Second. because expectations about further improvement tend to outrun the actual possibilities and thus to generate frustration." The propositions could be tested by looking at the rate of union formation and of technical change during different stages of the trade cycle. capitalists and other exploiting-dominating classes 7 Hence the slogan "Necessity is the mother of collective action" faces the same difficulty as the related idea that "Necessity is the mother of invention. he suggests that the small middle class is politically weak because it is "undergoing a constant process of decomposition and renewal.Class Consciousness in class membership as an obstacle to class consciousness. The standard of living. however. 133 .

One can accept this view and yet argue that the objective conflict of interests between slaves and their owners was not without consequences. or the political system. for example. CLASS STRUGGLE The forms of class struggle are many and varied. He does not. it is because slaveowners took care to reduce the likelihood of this happening by mixing slaves of different nationalities and in other ways manipulating the conditions under which slaves could become class-conscious. rather. the capitalist analogue to trade union formation. excepting a few remarks on classical antiquity. The interests of the parties may be implacably opposed or in concord in certain respects. 134 . from direct confrontation between the two classes involved in a relation of exploitation or dOmination to complex alliance formation involving three or more classes. for example. landowners and capitalists. Such preemptive class struggle is a very widespread phenomenon. For another. second. If there are few examples of slaves engaging in collective action. For such nonstate solutions to collective action problems within the exploiting and dominating classes.Class Consciousness and Class Struggle had problems of collective action before they achieved political power. They range from hidden manipulation to overt conflict. citizens or ethnic groups. a branch of the economy. often at the expense of the others. He explicitly says that the slaves took no part in the class struggle. He observes that here the main form of class struggle was the conflict between debtors and creditors or small and large landowners. the state can at most enforce collective action for one of them. What makes a conflict into a class struggle is. that the objects of the struggle are interests they have as classes. The arena of class struggle can be an enterprise. when there are several such classes in a given society. not as. first. Marx has little to say about class struggle in precapitalist societies. they were the "passive pedestal" of the class struggle between different groups of freemen. that the parties involved are classes and. have anything to say about cartel formation. the stakes can range from wage increases to the creation of a wholly new set of relations of production. we look in vain to Marx for guidance. say.

the modalities of struggle are strongly influenced by the presence of this third collective actor. the confrontation between capitalists and workers in his time had more immediate objects. for instance. workers demanded higher wages and better working conditions . and Gennany were. To the extent that the struggle between labor and capital concerns the very existence of the capitalist mode of production. the deliberate choice of inferior tech- nology if the best fonn would enhance the workers' class consciousness (by facilitating their communication with each other) or improve their bargaining leverage (by making them harder to replace or by making the finn more vulnerable to strikes that would let costly machinery lie idle). because repression can have the effect of unifying the opposition rather than destroying it. Although they have largely opposed interests about the division of the social product. In this framework. Although Marx believed that the long-tenn outcome of the class struggle was shaped by the conflict between capital and labor. strikes and 135 . both have an interest in increasing it. for the most part. Although Marx expected the class struggle to develop in this direction. on the general principle of "divide and conquer. Hence. His analyses of mid-nineteenth-century class struggle in England. for instance. Marx was mainly concerned with overt fonns of the class struggle. they have diametrically opposed interests.Class Stru99le It includes. France." Sometimes these strategies are more efficient than violent repression of attempts by the exploited classes to organize themselves. in addition to industrial capitalists and workers. based on the assumption of a triangular class constellation with. or government officials. a third force of landmyners. In contemporary capitalist societies it frequently takes the fonn of offering wage increases up to the level where the risk of trade union fonnation is eliminated but below the level that a union would be able to get for its members. Taking the capitalist organization of production for granted. capitalists and workers have some common interests. financial capitalists.as they do today. opposing two or more organized classes to each other. In many societies class struggles have been preempted by the ruling class manipulating the means of communication.

To some extent they also have overlapping interests about how the social pie is to be divided. they are like brokers who bring people of complementary skills together. Although they have no right to appropriate the surplus they cause to be produced. on the other. in Marx's words. Referring to England. what is that compared with the abolition of profit by the proletariat?" There are two distinct reasons why the capitalist class might want to compromise with the 136 . This pattern of coalition formation was observed in the struggle of English capitalists and workers for the repeal of the Com Laws or in the early stages of the French and German revolutions of 1848. Marx recognized these interdependencies of interest. or bureaucrats do not even have this indirect productive function." In a nearcontemporary comment on France. although in his work they took second place to an assertion of conflict of interest. Capitalists live off the surplus created by the workers. Capitalists have an interest in restraining their short-term greed and avoiding overexploitation of the workers." By contrast. we would expect an alliance between workers and capitalists against these unproductive classes. that they also force the creation of the surplus they appropriate. thereby making them more productive than they are in isolation. In their entrepreneurial function. with no common interests. they "help create what is to be deducted. Hence. workers have an interest in avoiding excessive wage claims. he argued. They are nothing but parasites. The two blocs are totally opposed. to the classes who make no contribution to the net social product. however. he asks. financial capitalists. on the one hand. Hence.Class Consciousness and Class Struggle lockouts are double-edged weapons in the class struggle because of the loss of production they may cause. on purely economic grounds. landowners. there is a conflict that opposes workers and industrial capitalists. Yet the capitalists soon find themselves in a dilemma: Having won with the help of the workers. Marx insisted. rhetorically: "The reduction of profit by finance. they risk defeat at the hands of the workers. because future wage increases depend on something being left over for capitalist profit and reinvestment. Marx writes that the capitalists then "prefer to compromise with the vanishing opponent rather than to strengthen the future enemy. it remains true that.

by combining their forces the exploiting classes can repress the exploited class more efficiently. by forcing the workers to divide their energy between Capital and Government. there is the two-front-war argument: The capitalists can gain by blurring the lines of class conflict.Class Stru99le precapitalist ruling classes.but an equally strong political incentive to retain them. They are damned if they do but 8 In some cases the distinction between short-term and long-term economic interests has nothing to do with politics. because otherwise foreign countries may be encouraged by the high canel prices to develop their own industry. The inherent propensity of capitalism to generate exploitation. This is the argument that Marx stresses in his writings on France and Germany. The main long-term interest of capital is its long-term survival. the capitalist class will have an overriding economic incentive to restore it by getting rid of the precapitalist parasites . alienation. which may depend on having a state whose decisions do not in each and every case coincide with the short-term economic interest of capital. between its short-term and long-tenn economic interests. Second. Here the interests of each individual capitalist coincide with the long-term interests of the class as a whole while diverging from the short-tenn collective interests. Marx believed that the initial alliance between the productive classes against the unproductive ones was precarious. These different ways of understanding the interest of capital add to the ambiguity and complexity of alliance formation. Thus it may be in the short-term collective interest or the capitalist class to form cartels against foreign consumers. 137 . This is the main argument cited in the writings on English politics. This analysis rests on a divergence between the economic and the political interests of the capitalist class. not reverse it. This distinction is a special case of a more general one. Yet the coalition of the exploiters is only a holding operation. First. 8 Recall here that the economic interests of the class can themselves diverge from the economic interests of each individual capitalist. When mechanisms immanent to capitalist production lead to a fall in the rate of profit. and various internal contradictions will ultimately sap its forces and lead to its abolition. but its long-term viability may depend on vigorous competition and free trade. even at some cost to its profit. soon to be overturned by an alliance between the exploiting classes against the exploited one. It can delay the historical trend. that is.

It would be wrong to say that it is a model of the genre. (This is particularly true of his analysis of the political dimension of the class struggle. not immediately reducible to class interests. In Marx's vision of social change.and medium-sized details his theory of the class struggle in capitalism was an outstanding achievement. one is struck by admiration for the brilliance of his intellect and dumbfounded by his lack of concern for consistency. Workers and capitalists of oppressed countries rally around the cause of national liberation in a way that is hard to reconcile with the Marxist tenet that class solidarity overrides all other interests. Ethnic. or religious cleavages within the working class are 138 . As always when reading Marx. Marxists have attempted to construct secondary lines of defense. yet each of them valuable and fruitful in some particular contexts. the "regional question" within capitalist countries poses a similar problem. flawed. as does the persistent and pervasive importance of racial. cultural.Class Consciousness and Class Struggle equally damned if they don't. It may well be that in the mid-nineteenth century this view came closer to being true than ever before or since. to be discussed later. Marx summarizes their dilemma with a phrase from Juvenal: "Et propter vitam vivendi perdere causas" (for the sake of life to sacrifice life's only end). One simply cannot defend the traditional Marxist view. In its main outlines. religious. not all of them consistent with each other. Marx offers no plausible story about how capitalism is doomed to destroy itself. Today. They suggest numerous avenues of research. Responding to this objection. class interests and class struggle were predominant. One counterargument is that the nonclass interest groups owe their existence to class interests.) Also. Yet in small. were important. and irreparably. Yet even at his time other causes and motivations. that these nonclass interest groups will lose in importance as classes increasingly acquire class consciousness and organization. this view of history is badly. given the numerous ways in which the overall speculative views impinge on and distort the specific analyses. Marx's writings on the class struggle give us more than any careful model could ever do. and linguistic conflicts. what came to be known as "the national question" has been a stumbling block for Marxism since its inception. In particular.

Bibliography explained by the fact that. Martin's Press. there is divide et impera. by weakening the workers. On the one hand. Marx refers to the latter when he remarks that the workers' struggle for the Ten Hours Bill was favored by the conflict between industrialists and landowners. 1979). This functionalist account fails through a confusion of two phenomena classically distinguished by Georg Simmel in his sociology of conflict. to win out in the class struggle. The relation between individual and collective betterment has been brilliantly explored by three French writers: Alexis de Tocqueville in classical works on American democracy and the French Revolution." It would be palpably absurd to assert that this conflict was engineered by the workers for their own purposes. No class gains the upper hand simply by being on the winning side of history. The conclusion seems inescapable that class struggle. Paul Veyne in his book on authority relations in classical antiquity. optimal relations of production come about when and because their promotion coincides with the interest of a rising class. BIBLIOGRAPHY Introduction. Another counterargument relies on a long historical perspective. in which a third party benefits from a conflict he has not been instrumental in creating. there is tertius gaudens. by virtue of this coincidence. New. and Raymond Boudon in The Unintended Consequences of Social Action (St. It asserts that nonclass collective action may be important in the internal development of each mode of production but that class struggle is the decisive factor in the transition from one mode of production to another. they also benefit capitalist class interests. though always an important part of social conflict and sometimes the most important part. again. On the other hand. which is able. yet a similar absurdity is committed by those who find capitalist intentions or benefits at work behind every conflict that opposes workers of different race or creed. The defect of this view is. 1976). in which the beneficiary actively creates and foments the conflict and distrust by which he maintains his rule. citing the English proverb that "When thieves fall out. its reliance on unsupported teleological thinking. honest men come into their own. 139 . Le Pain et Ie Cirque (Editions du Seuil. is not always and everywhere its dominant form.

1780-1880 (Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1969). 70 ff. Harold Perkin. Cohen. 1968). Medoff. Croix. Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution. A good study of class struggle in feudalism is Rodney Hilton. 1965). 1978). D. 1957). In addition to Thompson's book. and Germany around 1850 may be usefully compared with. The Class Stru99le in the Ancient Greek World (Duckworth. 1981). 1815-1871 (Princeton University Press. An application to capitalist collective action is John R. "The logic of capitalist collective action. 1979).Class Consciousness and Class Struggle The concept 0/ class. Blau and o. Duncan. M. A good account of social stratification theory is P. The Politics 0/ Social Classes (Monthly Review Press. and T. any good studies of working-class collective action in this perspective. B. Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution (Methuen. Hamerow. The relation between class consciousness and the collective action problem is discussed in Mancur Olson's classic book. The Origins of Modern English Society. An encyclopedic survey of Marx's writings on class is Hal Draper. M. Revolution. An application to collective action among the peasantry is Samuel Popkin. The objection to Marxist class theory discussed toward the end has been most forcefully put by Frank Parkin. Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford University Press. 1979). E. 2. What Do Unions Do? (Basic Books. The Logic of Collective Action (Harvard University Press. 1966). Bowman. Marxism and Class Theory (Tavistock. Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1973). valuable discussions of preemptive class struggle. The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin. Remond. pp. The definition proposed here owes much to John Roemer. to my knowledge. L. 1982). P. among other things. vol. There are not." Social Science Information 21 (1982): 571-604. The Rational Peasant (University of California Press. An outstanding historical study of class consciousness is E. 1974). 1982). Freeman and J. and to G. The importance of power for class formation in modem capitalist economies is stressed by Ralf Dahrendorf. France. Class struggle. R. Bond Men Made Free (Methuen. Class consciousness. It includes. de Ste. More dogmatic but also useful is John Foster. Thompson. 1978). the outstanding Marxist account of class struggle in history is G. Reaction: Economics and Politics in Germany. The American Occupational Structure (Wiley. Les Droites en France (Aubier. respectively. 1984). for which one may also consult R. 1967). 140 . A General Theory o/Exploitation and Class (Harvard University Press. Marx's accounts of social conflict in England. A. Restoration. S.

which themselves are further explained by their ability to promote the productive forces at an optimal rate.8 MARX'S THEORY OF POLITICS INTRODUCTION T HERE are two perspectives on politics in Marx's writings. superior relations appear at the horizon. politics is initially progressive but later becomes reactionary. it becomes reactionary when new. political struggle has no independent causal force. they must be seen in the wider context of historical materialism. It is progressive as long as the relations of production remain optimal for the development of the productive forces. In this transition. On the one hand. New relations of production are ushered in by political struggles. namely. the political movement that brought them into being is solidified into a political system that contributes to keeping them in place. To see the relation between the two functions of politics. This theory affirms that new relations of production emerge when and because the existing ones cease to be optimal for the further development of the productive forces: This is the ultimate explanation of a change in the economic relations. politics is part of the superstructure and hence of the forces that oppose social change. It acts as a midwife. bringing about what is doomed to come about sooner or later. The political system stabilizes the dominant economic relations. When performing ihis stabilizing function. In its reactionary stage. politics is a medium for revolution and hence for social change. the political system can no longer be explained by its ability to stabilize economic relations. a system of prop141 . It now keeps alive what formerly kept it alive. When the new relations have come about. the political system becomes an independent social force. In the latter stage. On the other hand.

contrary to the general movement of history. up to communism. to enter into an alliance with the working class.Marx's Theory of Politics erty rights that no longer can rest on its progressive economic function. when they refused. This is the overriding concern of his political theory: How does the state maintain and support capitalist relations of production in the face of the rise of communism as a potentially superior system? He also made numerous brief observations on the political processes at both sides of capitalism: the political transition from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to communism. because they depend too heavily on the teleological framework of his theory of history. is brought out in his irritation with the petty-minded Gennan burghers during the 1848 movement. from the Asiatic mode of production through slavery. The political movement corresponding to the new relations of production will. after its victory. They are also much less plausible. Marx and later Marxists have applied them to a much more limited set of problems: the rise and fall of capitalism. win out. The extent to which he neglected microfoundations. he would have understood that if he could see that this alliance would ultimately 142 . were turning suboptimal. solidify into a new political system but rather proceeds to the dismantling of politics. These general propositions are supposed to apply to all societies. give them a stay of execution. however. (There is one difference: The political movement that leads up to communism does not. capitalism. It can only. He believed that he wrote at a time when the capitalist relations of production. Marx never offers anything remotely resembling an argument for his view that individuals or classes will engage in political struggle for the sake of relations of production that will enable the productive forces to develop at an optimal rate. Though often suggestive. Correspondingly. from optimal. At the center of Marx's political writings is the capitalist state in its stabilizing function. serfdom. the capitalist state was in the process of going from its progressive to its reactionary stage. inevitably.) Actually. Had he been more willing to entertain the idea that they were rational political actors instead of puppets of their historical destiny. and instead simply put his faith in history. these are much less coherent than his theory of the capitalist state.

usually thought of as the Marxist theory of the state." In other pre-l 848 writings he is somewhat more careful. THE CAPITALIST STATE Marx had not one but two or three theories of the capitalist state. This is the view that the state is an independent actor in the social arena and that the interests of the capitalist class serve as constraints rather than goals for its actions. He recognizes that in most countries the state is not yet fully capitalist in nature but adds that it must inevitably become so if economic progress is to continue. a more plausible account emerges. Finally." to the effect that capitalists abstain from political power because they find their interests better served this way. he substituted for it an "abdication theory. the first task is more fundamental and actually includes the second.The Capitalist State benefit the workers in their struggle against capitalism the burghers could also see what lay in store for them if they accepted it. After 1848. In one sense Marx stands in the Hobbesian tradition that views the state as a means for enforcing cooperative behavior in a Prisoner's Dilemma. when this view became increasingly implausible. It was when Marx had to give up this basic premise that he developed the abdication theory of the state. 143 . on the other hand. Of these. if one removes from the second theory all that is sheer stipulation or unsubstantiated assertion. because an unorganized working class is a public good for the capitalists. Prior to 1848 he held a purely instrumental theory. The instrumental theory has two sides to it. "Bourgeois industry has reached a certain level when it must either win an appropriate political system or perish". by "appropriate" he meant a system in which the bourgeoisie directly assumes the political power. it blocks the cooperative solution to the similar problems faced by the workers. the state solves the collective action problems of the bourgeoisie. according to which it is "nothing but" a tool for the common interests of the bourgeoisie. In The Communist Manifesto Marx tells us that "the executive of the modem State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. The crucial difference is that Hobbes thought of the relevant Prisoner's Dilemma as one involving the war of all against all. On the one hand.

In the only place where Marx refers to the function of the state in providing genuinely public goods. and enforcement of competition. is to save firms from the ravages of competition. except by a fiat to the effect that it would not arise. legal regulation of the length of the working day. because of the free-rider problem involved. Similarly. but on his behalf one might offer the following considerations. Among the tasks of the capitalist state. The natural response of ruling classes is to meet social unrest by repression rather than preemption. he argued that the Ten Hours Bill of 1848 was introduced to protect capitalists against their short-term greed. In the long run. long-term interests ofthe capitalist class. Of these. Marx argued that the state had to take the long view.Marx's Theory of Politics whereas Marx restricted it to the internal war among members of the economically dominant class. If firms in an industry are unable to form a cartel. There have been quite a few instances of such forced cartelization in the history of capitalism. the viability and hence the legitimacy of capitalism depend upon the spur of competition. rather than enforcing competition. It is a puzzle why he should think that. It is sometimes argued that the task of the state. Byoverexploiting the workers. will it not also anticipate and prevent the communist revolution? Would not a state that does not say "Apres nous Ie deluge" try to preempt any revolutionary social movement by reformist concessions? Marx did not confront this issue. the state can force them to act in their collective interest. he adds that with the development of capitalism these will increasingly be provided by private industry. especially during the Great Depression. say. If it turns out that repression does not work. Marx cites expropriation of private property when it is in the interest of the capitalist class as a whole. the rulers 144 . they were threatening the physical reproduction and survival of the class that formed the very condition for profit. This argument presents a puzzle. If the state can act in the collective. the last two are especially interesting. or has the very opposite effect of what was intended by unifying the forces it was supposed to crush. basic research or defense against external enemies could profitably be undertaken by private firms. most probably he did not have a clear understanding of the problem. for the purpose of short-term profits.

instead of using it as a stepping-stone to power. he claimed that the existence of this noncapitalist state could actually be explained by these benefits. The English capitalists dismantled the successful Anti-Corn Law League. however. formulated by Marx in writings on French and English politics around 1852. far from reaching out toward political power.The Capitalist State may turn to preemptive concessions as a fall-back strategy. that preemption is a difficult technique to deploy. which includes abstaining from taking the power that is within one's reach as well as giving up the power that one has. ("Abdication" is used here in a somewhat extended sense. Finally." The final outcome of the bourgeois struggle against feudal. or bureaucratic regimes was not their dissolution but their further entrenchment. because otherwise it will be taken as a sign of weakness and provoke still further demands. Marx had to argue that these noncapitalist regimes could ultimately be explained by the interests of the capitalist class. it must be used before the demand for concessions has even arisen. like several other writers. Instead. unlike these other writers.) There are three steps in the argument. In France and Germany the revolutionary movement of 1848-9 was not the uninterrupted march forward of the bourgeoisie that Marx had predicted. Marx argued that at this particular juncture in history the bourgeoisie benefited from having a state that was not the immediate extension of their interest. it took the form "One step forward. Events in Europe between 1848 and 1852 showed that the bourgeoisie. nevertheless. because the presence of a noncapitalist state could 145 . This argument was provided by what I have called the abdication theory of the capitalist state. As usual. The principle that would guide a rational ruling class is either to give no concessions or to give more than is demanded. that both repression and preemption sometimes do work. In that case they will find. turned away from it. he argued that. nonexplanatory benefits in social life. they showed no interest in dethroning them from power generally. two steps backward. to Marx's frustration and puzzlement. To remain consistent with his general theory of history. To be effective. It remains true. Having defeated the landowners over this particular issue. Next. First. Marx had difficulties in accepting the idea that there can be accidental. absolutist.

Many writers have been struck by the apparent paradox that England. Lipset." The alternative explanation." The implication seems to be that a purely "commercial" or capitalist government would be too myopic or too greedy on behalf of capital. M.Marx's Theory of Politics be explained by its value to the capitalist class. cumulation of economic and political superiority had almost invariably been the rule. 146 . whose economic basis was ownership of land rather than capital." not because they are too greedy but because they are too incompetent. is that the aristocracy had a traditional monopoly on government that was not easily broken. the foremost capitalist country in the nineteenth century. but especially for the interest of its commerce. because it neglects important strategic elements of the situation. In the words of S. its autonomy was only an apparent one. He argued that. Various writers have argued that the English bourgeoisie benefited from having a noncapitalist government.would fuse into one." In a quite different vein the English social historian G.Capital and Government . the two enemies of the working class . The bourgeoisie was the first propertyowning class that was not also the g~verning class. at least to a non-Marxist. H. "unable not only to lead the nation but even to take care of their particular class interests. favored by Marx. This step is also questionable." The benefit cited by Marx was quite different. were the capitalists to take political power. is that the bourgeoisie shied away from power because it was not in their interest to take it. the aristocracy "continued to maintain its control over the governmental machinery because it remained the highest status group in society. possibly written by Walter Bagehot. it is in the highest degree desirable that the Government should stand high above the influence of commercial interest. was governed by a resolutely aristocratic elite. The most natural explanation of this fact. An editorial in the Economist from 1862. In a related argument Joseph Schumpeter claimed that the bourgeoisie "needs a master. In earlier history. thus undermining its long-term interest. Cole remarks that the English bourgeoisie "were too occupied with their own affairs to wish to take the exercise of political authority directly into their own hands. argued that "not only for the interest of the country at large. D.

the objective benefits do not in themselves provide an explanation. The revolution of 1848 led to the formation of the Second Republic and brought the bourgeoisie into political power. benefits their class as a whole. there was a need for a new blurring of the class lines. The free-rider problem ensures that capitalists will keep out of politics. their combativity and class consciousness would lack a clear focus. This fits in with Cole's argument: Although all capitalists would make more money if they all made some political effort. the English bourgeoisie cleverly stayed away from power. individually or as a class. Nor is it clear that the benefits cited by the Economist or by Schumpeter provide an explanation for the political passivity of the English bourgeoisie. each individual capitalist would rather stay in business. Marx often suggests that the French bourgeoisie was weakened by internal 147 . without the concealment afforded by the crown. where the capitalists first had power and then lost it. unless intolerably provoked by state measures that go strongly against their interests. Marx applied the same analysis to France. A variant of the argument can be applied to the French case. then. providentially ensured by Louis Napoleon." Hence. against economic exploitation and political oppression. As long as the workers had to fight a two-front war. "since they must now confront the subjugated classes and contend against them without mediation. wanted to explain the presence of a noncapitalist state by the interests of the capitalist class. It may then well be true that what capitalists do out of individual self-interest also. Marx.The Capitalist State creating an explosive social situation. In the absence of subjective intentions. There is no evidence to suggest that the capitalists. were motivated by such considerations. Yet they soon recognized that the July Monarchy (1830-48) had been a better arrangement from their point of view. by a happy coincidence. A simpler explanation is provided by the logic of collective action. The explanation is not supported by the historical record. Recognizing this. but this fact is no part of the explanation of why they do it. just as he saw the dismantling of the Anti-Corn Law League as a deliberate stepping back from power by the English capitalists. Marx interpreted Bonaparte's coup d'etat of December 1851 as the abdication from power of the French bourgeoisie.

prestrategic conception of power that prevented him from recognizing that the states he observed had au- 148 . Schumpeter. In this case. Let us explore. and Marx did in fact enter into the explanation for the capitalist abstention from power. Hence they had little resistance to offer to the coup d'etat. Marx claimed that if the presence of a noncapitalist state could be explained by such benefits it would prove that the state was "really" or ultimately a capitalist one. This fact. dearly. claiming that their lack of political power made them into the effective economic power in the land. that is. therefore. These two facts. hard to come by. It may tum out. Evidence about individual motivations for abstaining from action is. The observation suggests that the French bourgeoisie had not overcome their free-rider problems. consider an analogy. there could well be some truth in it. Marx does actually refer to the "Babylonian captivity" of the bourgeoisie in the decade following the 1849 counterrevolution. he refrained from suggesting that their captivity was explained by those economic benefits. the possibility that the benefits cited by the Economist. that he does better for himself in prison than he would have done had he remained at liberty. do not entitle us to say that he abdicated from liberty out of long-term self-interest or that the explanation of his being captured lies in the benefits he derived from being in prison. however. Writing about Germany. by the nature of the case. A fugitive from justice may allow himself to be captured out of sheer exhaustion. combined with the (alleged) benefits they derived from having a noncapitalist state.Marx's Theory of Politics dissensions among its several fractions and that this is what allowed Louis Bonaparte to take power. It could be that the lack of political ambitions on the part of individual capitalists was reinforced by the perception that even were they to overcome their free-rider problem they might not be well served by doing so. I shall argue against this view. Marx held a narrow. that they were not yet a stable collective actor. To see that the view is not justified. Although there is little evidence for the view that capitalists abstained from power because they saw that this best served their interests. moreover. could be seen as justifying the view that they deliberately opted for the latter and abdicated from their own rule.

Or. 149 . as a strategic game between Capital and Government with the working class as an important background variable. In modified form. it could also apply to aspects of twentieth-century politics.real. A might actually welcome the fact that B does not choose the alternative top-ranked by A . it is tempting to argue that if the choice between the feasible political alternatives is always made according to the interest of one group. he might at least tolerate it as the lesser evil." may abstain from choosing any of these. it is clear that power . however.must also include the ability to define the set of alternatives. as opposed to formal . to the extent that what is bad for A is also bad for B. initially facing a given number of alternatives. to be avoided at all costs. but none is outstandingly superior. To see this. A may have the power to exclude some of the alternatives from being considered. perhaps because B's affluence depends on that of A. to set constraints on what is feasible. then it has all power concentrated in its hands. some are judged better than others. observe first that there are two ways in which group interests can shape state policies: by serving as the goal those policies try to promote. There are two agents: A (Capital) and B (Government). On reflection. B might not want to choose an inferior alternative even if he could get away with it. On the other hand. if he does not welcome it. Moreover.The Capitalist State tonomy in a real sense and not only as a fief from the capitalist class. or by serving as a constraint on them. It is constructed so as to apply to nineteenth-century European politics. If the bad alternatives can somehow be excluded from the feasible set.for example. it might not matter too much which of the remaining ones is chosen by B. acting on the "law of anticipated reactions. B has the formal power to choose among the feasible alternatives. It may not even be necessary for A to take any steps to exclude the inferior alternatives. We assume that in A's judgment some alternatives are very bad. On first glance. B. if A does not want to be seen having power or if he deplores his own tendency to prefer short-term over long-term gains. knowing that if he does A has the power and the motive to dethrone him. The following scenario is intended to bring out the relations between these two ways of wielding power. Among those remaining.

and again there is no tax revenue. of an equally substantive character. B has autonomy as a fief. in fact. if the tax rate is 100. Two degrees of the structural dependence of the state on capital. 150 . no taxable activity will be forthcoming. there is no tax income. Marx would say that the autonomy is only apparent. tmax . for simplicity. because ultimately it is granted by A. But conversely. (Needless to say. Both actors.Marx's Theory of Politics compared to the costs involved in taking the formal power (as distinct from the costs involved in having it). have power. If the tax rate is 0. To be sure. although its substance might be questioned. How much power they have depends on the further. perhaps also by the need to avoid killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. that this is the only interest of the govern- 0% t max 100% Tax rate 8 Tax rate A Figure 1. the same situation from B's perspective. political power unless provoked. however. Let us assume. Somewhere in between there must be a tax rate. B's power is limited by the fact that there are certain bounds that he cannot transgress without provoking A into taking power for himself. not demonstrative. He will correctly perceive his power as deriving from the cost to A of having or taking it. A's real influence is limited by his desire not to assume formal.) Each curve shows the amount of tax revenue to the state as a function of the tax rate. that maximizes government income. Consider. as may be seen by comparing cases A and B in Figure 1. specific features of the situation. the following argument is extremely stylized. In either case B would be invested with some autonomous power of decision. it is intended to be suggestive.

that the tax rate be as close to 0 as possible. One is that A might know that if in power his decisions will be motivated by short-term gain to himself and that he wants to prevent this by letting the power remain safely outside his reach. 151 . Another reason could be the presence of a third actor. It is a purely empirical question whether. We have seen some of the reasons why A might not want power. A has reasons for not wanting to take power. or low.e. To go into politics is like a costly investment that bears fruit only after some time while requiring outlays in the present. From the point of view of A's long-term interest. From this perspective. as well as on the form of tax collection. 9 The interest of the capitalist class is. 1 1 whereas in the latter it is constrained to track very closely what is optimal policy from the capitalist point of view. A might positively desire that B should not consistently decide in accordance with A's longterm interest. as distinct from his reasons for not having it. If one's interests are reasonably well respected in the present. in any given case.The Capitalist State ment: to raise as much tax revenue as possible.. as in case A. something like case A or something like case B obtains. for instance if it believes that economic growth is necessary to stave off popular unrest. of course. Finally. because otherwise C might perceive that the distinction between A and B is quite spurious.i. the prospect of a future in which they might 9 The government may also have an interest in a high growth rate for the economy. 10 The capitalist class may have a collective interest in some taxation. although not. For A it might then be better to leave the formal power with B. the optimal tax rate may be high. C (Labor). 10 Depending on various economic factors. In the former case. to simplify again. as in case B. as good as if B would take them to promote A's long-term interest. that there is no political constraint operating. it may be better to have the decisions taken in accordance with B's interest. II Assuming that the capitalist class is unable or unwilling to take power for itself . for the provision of public goods. so that some of Cs attention and energy should be directed toward Band diverted from A. the government has substantial freedom to act against the interests of the capitalist class. who is already opposed to A and who also tends to oppose whoever has the formal power of decision.

the state has an interest in maximizing tax revenue. not just in current income from taxation. Even if it is in the interest of capital to have a state with sufficient autonomy to pursue some such goals. however.the government may have wide-ranging freedom to impose its interests on the capitalist class. They have the resources and the motivation to overthrow the government if their interests are not sufficiently respected. the only relevant considerations. the specific goals being pursued need not reflect that interest. imperialism.want to impose the tax rate that maximizes tax revenue. and the creation of future taxable income. We saw above that if we consider only the economic constraint that the state faces . which is optimal from the point of view of tax revenue. The binding constraint may be the political rather than the economic one. Myopia . the bourgeoisie in maximizing profits. considering the costs of transition. The goose need not just be kept alive. Knowing this. These facts also create an incentive for B to make the transition costs as high as possible and to ensure that A's interest is just sufficiently respected to make them an effective deterrent. These are not.a high evaluation of present as opposed to future income .the need to keep alive the goose that lays the golden eggs .might prevent A from wanting to take power. a rational government might not . If the state imposes a very high tax rate. they will not do so indefinitely.Marx's Theory of Politics be even better respected need not be very attractive. The state has an interest in future tax revenue. a political constraint. or social welfare. Although the presence of a potentially dangerous working class may make them pull their punches for a while. How the state further uses its revenues does not concern us here. just as his knowledge of his own tendency to act myopically might prevent him from wanting to have it. The state as well as the capitalist class can be the victim of myopia. there will be less left over for capitalist profit investment. Fear 152 . the capitalists might not sit still and take it. it should be healthy and thriving. If it maximizes income from taxes in the short run. The fact that such activities are pursued by the state operating in a capitalist society does not prove that they are "really" in the interest of capital. In more concrete language. There is. furthennore. The substantive goals of the state can range from enriching the bureaucracy to promoting cultural expansion.

The view that the English. for instance. again.or. incumbent officeholders have an edge on their rivals that. A state that can consistently impose policies very different from what capitalists would prefer and promote interests very different from theirs is a paradigm of autonomy. power grows out of the end of a gun . His views on the absolutist state and on the classical bourgeois revolutions must be reconstructed from a large number of brief texts. and German governments had power simply as a fief from capital cannot be upheld. POLITICS IN THE TRANSITION TO CAPITALISM Marx never wrote extensively about precapitalist politics. It is at least as plausible to explain the political abstention or abdication of the capitalists in terms of their individual interests. Clearly. Also. however. out of money and manpower. The conception that emerges is 153 . scattered around in his writings. Related phenomena in other domains are the general advantage of the defense over the offense in military matters and the disproportionate power that may accrue to a political party that happens to be in a pivotal position between the two major political blocs. It does not become less so by the fact that the capitalist class may prefer this state over any feasible alternative. French. The capitalists' fear of the working class. more generally. Marx argued that the presence of an autonomous. noncapitalist state could be explained by the structure of capitalist class interests. On his conception. gives a lever to the aristocratic government that has little to do with the physical resources it actually has at its disposal. does not derive from any prepolitical power base. it does not follow that the autonomous policy decisions of the state can also be explained by these interests or that the autonomy was an illusory one. It is not clear that he was right. The basic flaw in Marx's analysis derives from a limited view of what constitutes a political resource. Even were he right. Marx underestimated the complexity ofthe situation he was discussing.Politics in the Transition to Capitalism for loss of power in the short run may accomplish what fear for loss of income in the long run does not. Yet the power base of a political actor can also be his place in a web of strategic relationships.

The decisive force in the shaping of modern history was not capitalism but the strong nation-states that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. that it was a "feudal monarchy" whose seeming "distance from the class from which it was recruited and whose interests it served" was in fact "the condition for its efficacy as a state." This amounts to saying that absolute monarchy was for the feudal aristocracy what in Marx's view the Bonapartist state was for the bourgeoisie ." Elsewhere in the same work he suggests that the winner in this contest for the power was the state. Marx did not argue that absolute monarchy was the political superstructure over feudalism. In later writings this view is spelled out in a more interesting way. domination is shared. The bourgeois revolutions of 1648 and 1789 brought the capitalists toward power but not all the way to power. however indirectly. Here he suggests that the independence of the state is self-defeating. Unlike some recent Marxist historians. however. for example. not a tool. In The German Ideology he refers to the period of absolutism as one in which "royal power. in the sense that politics appears as anything but derivative. Marx did not. the bourgeoisie. He argued that absolute monarchy was a competitor to the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. of either.Marx's Theory of Politics surprisingly un-Marxist. apply his theory of indirect class representation to the absolutist state. The state does not stand in the same relation to the bourgeoisie as it does to the feudal nobility. at least in the early modern period. aristocracy and bourgeoisie are contending for domination and where. The state and the nobility struggle over the division of a given surplus. In The German Ideology Marx also asserts. Their rise was arrested. Perry Anderson writes. without much argument. created by the exploited peasantry. For them. By mediating between the classes and playing them out against each other. that the independence of the absolutist state was transitory and illUSOry. because it cannot promote its interest without also strengthening one of its rivals. independent actor.a tool. "plenty" was a means to "power" and subservient to power. for the reasons set out above. and the state once again became a dominant. The 154 . but at one remove. the state could prevent either from getting the upper hand. therefore.

Usually. as in Spain. and vice versa. the absolutist state actively reshapes the pattern of economic activities. What is the role. thereby laying it open to foreign rivals. it will create a formidable internal rival.by the rise of the working class that drives the bourgeoisie to ally itself with its former opponent against the new one. A balance may be found. in this general picture.) It would look. By contrast. out of its self-interest. It required very deliberate state intervention against the numerous feudal barriers to mobility. In particular. If it tries to hamper the bourgeoisie. The creation of competition and of a national market was not the quasiautomatic effect of foreign trade. If the state continues to encourage trade and industry. By promoting the mobility of capital. What is strength with respect to the internal enemy is weakness with respect to the external. as ifthe state is in a fix: damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. of the classical bourgeois revolutions? Almost all Marx has to say about the English 155 . but not easily. weights. the state allows the bourgeoisie to fill its own coffers as well as those of the state. and goods and by creating a unified system of money. the best of both. (Marx does not actually make the last argument. Beyond a certain point. which is creating the "plenty" that the state needs to promote its "power. Marx suggests that it is in fact to be ranged with Asiatic rather than European forms of government. The equilibrium can be stabilized only by the emergence of an enemy of the internal enemy . as they hoped. the state will hurt its own economic interests if it interferes too much with the bourgeoisie. labor. Unlike the state in the Asiatic mode of production. the attempts by many absolutist rulers to encourage industrialization without a general modernization of society have not been successful. further the interests of the bourgeoisie. and measures. they have got the worst of both worlds. as Marx suggests elsewhere. it will reduce the economic and hence the military strength of the country.Politics in the Transition to Capitalism state can gain only by reducing the power of the nobility. Where it does not. not. therefore. this dependence on the bourgeoisie creates a dilemma for the state. The international dimension of absolutist policies is a major lacuna in his writings on the topic." Up to a point the state will.

and in any case the argument as a 156 ." In both revolutions this republican phase was accompanied by the formation of communist movements. perfonned by the workers.wanted to take a third step. There was a need to make a clean sweep of the past before the bourgeois order could be constructed. The suggestion of a divided gentry appears to lack empirical support. which also offers a few comparisons with the French revolution of 1789. Marx could not resist the temptation to find a meaning in these aborted attempts. "In 1648 the bourgeoisie was allied with the modem aristocracy against the monarchy. he never subjected it to a systematic analysis. unbeknownst to themselves. because it is only the first stage in a process whose overall pattern is "Two steps forward. Marx suggests that the English revolution was carried out by an alliance of the bourgeoisie and the big landowners. one step backward. As usual. while also benefiting from the general economic development that the bourgeoisie set in motion. were part and parcel of the bourgeois revolution. The main difference between the two revolutions concerns the structure of the alliances that carried them out. with a republican interlude. The latter provided the fonner with the labor force it needed to operate its factories. His numerous remarks on the French revolution are all very brief. They were transitions from absolute to constitutional monarchy. which he construed as a premature bid for power by the French proletariat. Although the main characters and events of the French revolution were part of his mental universe and shaped the categories through which he interpreted current events. the feudal aristocracy and the established church. It would be misleading to focus on the transition from absolutism to republic as the revolution. The two classical bourgeois revolutions had some features in common. This historical task was. Marx suggests that the events of 1794. In 1789 the bourgeoisie was allied with the people against the monarchy.following the revolutionary logic of going to extremes ." Specifically.Marx's Theory of Politics revolution of 1640-88 is contained in a book review of Guizot's Discours sur I'Histoire de fa Revolution d'Angleterre. except for a slightly more extended discussion in The Holy Family. who . the aristocracy and the established church.

On the other hand. presents a puzzle." The "needs of the world" amounted. The puzzle can be resolved by recalling the self-defeating character of absolutism. First. however. If so. however. On the one hand. for three reasons. we now find him saying that these were the achievements of bourgeois revolutions directed against these very monarchies. perceive the 157 . The state. Although a rational absolutist ruler might want to stop the process just before the bourgeoisie gathers the strength needed for a revolution. the bourgeoisie may already be too strong to be stopped. with the benefit of hindsight. Marx. essentially. In 1640 there were no actual or anticipated factories in need of workers. this is what they achieved. the absolutist state finds that it is in its interest as an autonomous agent to strengthen industry and hence the bourgeoisie. although we can. the bourgeois revolution will occur to complete the process begun by the absolute monarchy. he writes that the bourgeois revolutions "reflected the needs of the world at that time rather than the needs ofthose parts ofthe world where they occurred. At that point.Politics in the Transition to Capitalism whole is a piece of blatantly anachronistic teleological thinking. the protection of the material power of the bourgeoisie also tends to generate its political power and hence to threaten the autonomy of the state. French landed property was probably more integrated with bourgeois property than Marx thought. thought that the explanation of the revolutions could be found in their achievements rather than in their causes. will be somewhat halfhearted in its defense of the bourgeois interests. On the one hand. he is not likely to succeed in doing so. to the abolition of feudal privilege and the creation of a regime offree competition. to achieve industrialization without all the concomitant social and political reforms. therefore. Marx's characterization of the coalition structure behind the French revolution does not appear to stand up in the light of more recent research. Whatever the revolutionaries may have thought they were doing. perhaps. In an extravagantly teleological remark. At some point the state will want to stop further liberalization. that is England and France. however. This argument. Also. On the other hand. trying. Marx insisted on the progressive function of the absolute monarchies in creating a national market and abolishing barriers to competition.

Gradually. he rarely sinned against another: Never make your plans strongly dependent on the assumption that the adversary is fully rational. it is not clear that the absolutist rulers themselves were in a position to do so. The alliance structure would be the same. Third. Although the CCP (or the Komintem) believed they could ally themselves with Chiang Kaishek for a while and discard him when his usefulness was exhausted. (Because he tended to emphasize teleology rather than rationality. Marx put his trust in a repeat of the counterrevolutionary wars Qf the French revolution.) Later communist leaders have been victims of the same hubris. a rational bourgeoisie. the need to fortify the country against external enemies may in any case have been more pressing. the manipulators ended up as the manipulated. would undermine it. The only thing that will keep an economically vigorous bourgeoisie away from power is lack of motivation to take it. would keep away from power. Second. In the initial stage of the revolution he appears to have believed that the pattern of the French revolution would largely be reproduced. farther down the road. 158 . when the revolution made slower progress than expected. If he could perceive that a bourgeois regime would set up conditions that. Marx's analyses of the German revolution of 1848-9 can also be seen in this perspective. so could his adversaries. except that the workers would playa more active part than merely carrying out the dirty work of the bourgeoisie. Also. Russia would intervene against Germany and ignite the revolutionary struggle.Marx's Theory of Politics internal tensions in the absolutist state. to be repressed as soon as their historical mission was fulfilled. depriving the bourgeoisie of the means to take political power would also deprive it of much of its economic usefulness. Marx sinned against a main rule of political rationality: Never make your plans strongly dependent on the assumption that the adversary is less than fully rational. most notably in the sequence of events that led up to the Shanghai massacre of Chinese communists in 1927. If he could learn from history. it dawned upon Marx that his adversaries could read the situation as well as he. reading the same signs. If he could anticipate that Russian intervention would unleash the forces of revolution. a rational czar would remain passive. however.

Although Marx went along with some of their demands. or government. capitalists. practical pressures. it is very difficult to reconstruct Marx's real views. Between 1848 and 1850 he wrote numerous political statements and newspaper articles from which one can glean some of his views on strategy and tactics. he probably believed them to be utopian and premature.Politics in the Transition to Communism POLITICS IN THE TRANSITION TO COMMUNISM Marx's writings on the political transition to communism cluster in his two periods of intense political activity. under which conditions would a rational working class want to undertake a revolution? Second. Nevertheless. because they seem to correspond to the reality of the situation. In his later years his public espousal of a possible peaceful road to communism may have represented a similar tactical concession. the later probably reflect the opposite deviation. how could a rational capitalist class or a rational government allow these conditions to arise? Failing plausible answers to these questions. Let us first see whether this view can be defended and then examine the weaker versions that arise if we drop the causal or the chronological parts of the claim. As evidence for his thinking. he also wrote widely on political and organizational matters. to be sure. During the years of the First International. Being shaped in large part by external. First. we must see whether his views can be restated within a framework of this type. Marx. The radical artisans who formed the core of the Communist League and of the progressive faction of the 1848 movement wanted an immediate proletarian bid for power. As a result. There are two central questions that ought to be faced by any theory of the communist revolution. they reflect the spirit of compromise as well as sheer exhortation. these texts are quite unreliable. Whereas circumstances biased the early texts toward what came to be known as ultraleftist deviation. between 1865 and 1875. 159 . a theory of revolution must invoke political irrationality on the part of workers. did not state the problem in these terms. It follows from the central propositions of historical materialism that the communist revolution will occur when and because communist relations of production become optimal for the development of the productive forces.

inefficiency. The communist revolution occurs when but not because capitalism becomes a brake on further technical progress. Trotsky's own work supports a stronger statement. the communist revolution will be caused not by technical stagnation but by the prospect of an unprecedented technical expansion. but that is not our concern here. exploitation. we must ask if this prospect can plausibly motivate the workers to carry out a revolution. too. in the first place. On this view. they will be driven to revolt because of directly observable features of capitalism: alienation. This view.for the sake of a remote and uncertain possibility of a system that will perform even better.Marx's Theory of Politics Marx argued that under capitalism the productive forces develop at an ever faster rate. Even if we assume that workers are able to act collectively to promote their common interests. Rather. trade cycles. The idea that communism will bypass capitalism with respect to the rate of innovation is itself highly implausible. be subject to a free-rider temptation that would block the efficacy of that motivation. in the second place. be subject to some degree of myopia and risk aversion. moreover. Having much more to lose than their chains. efficient capitalism . take account of the costs of transition and. It is not reasonable to expect workers to sacrifice what they have ." Indeed. a rational working class would still. Societies are systematically so irrational in building that the objective conditions for communism 160 . In Leon Trotsky's words. A first retreat from this highy implausible view is to drop the causal implication of historical materialism while retaining the chronological one.a dynamic. is implausible. they will be reluctant to throw them off. Rather. Hence. "societies are not so rational in building that the dates for proletarian dictatorship arrive exactly at that time when the economic and cultural conditions are ripe for socialism. waste. what will motivate the workers to revolution is not the esoteric thought experiment that was just sketched. It just so happens that the time at which these ills become so grave as to create the subjective conditions for a communist revolution is also the time at which communism becomes objectively superior as a framework for developing the productive forces. Yet at some level of their development communist relations of production will allow for an even higher rate of their further progress. Rational workers might.

Politics in the Transition to Communism and the subjective conditions for a communist revolution never coincide." according to which 161 . as far as the ability to develop the productive forces is concerned. the ruling classes would have to be somewhat irrational.but at that stage a communist revolution will also be premature. that by postponing the revolution one would take it off the agenda for good. which is further helped by the absence of a reformist tradition and the possibility of drawing on the stock of advanced socialist ideas developed in the West. more realistically. Russia around the turn of the century was a breeding ground for revolution because its backwardness created the proper economic and ideological conditions. requiring huge numbers of workers. he must assume that capitalists or government fail to deploy these means to preempt a communist revolution. Because the development of the productive forces creates the material conditions for a general improvement in the standard of living. at the very least. Revolution is more likely to occur in a society where the level of development has not reached the stage where widespread concessions to the workers are affordable . Such concentration facilitates class consciousness. including protection against unemployment. Or. The former wanted the workers to pull their punches in the struggle with the capitalists. so that capitalism could have the time to reach the stage at which a viable communism could be introduced. These problems were at the root of the controversy between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in the Russian socialist movement. Theory suggests and experience confirms that communist revolutions will take place only in backward countries that are nowhere near the stage of development at which they could overtake capitalism. however. he anticipated Trotsky's "theory of combined and uneven development. Russian factories were free to employ techniques of large-scale production. Being a latecomer to economic development. In some writings. The latter argued. he must assume that they deploy them irrationally and inefficiently. Most of the time Marx seems to have assumed that the first communist revolution will occur in the most advanced capitalist country. For Marx's argument to be plausible. by combining stick and carrot in a way that only incites the revolutionary energy of the workers.

that Marx's theory of the communist revolution assumes that workers. revolutions first occur on the European continent. How could the two sets of conditions be brought together? Around 1850 Marx argued.Marx's Theory of Politics the center-periphery dimension of capitalism is crucial for the possibility of revolution. The socialist movement has entertained different conceptions of 162 . again he failed to see that a rational capitalist government would. rather than the diffusion ofrevolution in the opposite direction. Rather. We must conclude. "Violent outbreaks must naturally occur rather in the extremities of the bourgeois body than in its heart." Some thirty years later he suggested. for that very reason. would spread to the center. capitalists. Thirty years later he emphasized the diffusion of technology from West to East. Again he put his hope in counterrevolutionary intervention as the mechanism that would ignite the general revolutionary conflagration. essentially. Because he did not provide any arguments for this assumption. His scenarios were. The point is not that events could not conceivably develop according to one of these scenarios. because it is much more difficult to borrow technology than Marx thought. therefore. not on social analysis. once it had occurred in the capitalist periphery. The objective conditions emerge in the advanced capitalist countries. based on wishful thinking. that Russia might enjoy "advantages of backwardness" that would allow it to bypass the capitalist stage and go directly on to communism. The use of advanced industrial technology requires education and mental habits that cannot themselves be borrowed. as did Trotsky after him. abstain from intervening. Irrational behavior can be an extremely powerful political force. the subjective ones in the backward nations. or governments of capitalist nations must behave irrationally. however. in correspondence with Russian socialists. his theory fails. that revolution. In The Class Struggles in France he wrote that although England is the "demiurge of the bourgeois cosmos" and the ultimate cause of capitalist crises. This argument also fails. the point is that Marx provided no rational grounds for thinking that events would develop as he hoped. This argument suggests that the subjective and the objective conditions for communism will be developed in different parts of the capitalist world system.

Politics in the Transition to Communism
revolutionary strategy and tactics. They may be distinguished by the order in which the following goals are achieved: the proletarian seizure of power, the winning of a majority to the proletarian cause, and the transformation of society. According to one strategy, the workers should first seize power, then begin to change society, and finally win a majority. This was Lenin's strategy, using power to transform the peasantry into industrial workers who will adhere to the communist goals. There are indications that at one point Marx contemplated this strategy. Some of his statements on Germany after the bourgeoisie's retreat from power in December 1848 can support this "ultraleftist" conception but can also, with equal plausibility, be understood as compromise formulas. A variant of the minoritarian strategy is found in some comments on Russia from around 1870. Marx agrees that the Russian workers must take power while in a minority but adds that their first action must be to take measures to win the peasantry over to their side, thus effectively reversing the order of the last two stages in the Leninist strategy. Another, reformist strategy proposes to begin by transforming society from within, thus creating a majority for communism that will make the final seizure of power a mere formality. Again, there is some support for this view in Marx's writings. In Capital III he describes how joint-stock companies and workers' cooperatives effectuate "the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself." We should not infer, however, that he believed this could be the main road to communism. This is pretty obvious with respect to joint-stock companies, but the case for workers' cooperatives might seem more promising. The obstacle to this path, however, is that communist enclaves within capitalism will function badly precisely because they operate within a hostile environment; reforms that are viable in the large may work badly when implemented in the small. "Restricted to the dwarfish forms into which individual wage slaves can elaborate it by their private efforts, the cooperative system will never transform capitalistic society." Finally, there is the strategy of the majority revolution in which the workers win a majority, seize power, and use it to change society. This was certainly Marx's preferred strategy with respect
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to the advanced capitalist countries, which remained crucial to the prospect of revolution, even if it were to start as a minority movement in the backward countries. The further modalities of the majority revolution depend on the answers given to three interrelated Questions. Was the working class to organize itself secretly or openly? Should it use the existing political institutions or work outside them? Would it be possible to introduce communism by peaceful measures, or would a violent revolution prove necessary? On the first issue Marx's position was perfectly clear. He was consistently opposed to secret societies and conspiracies, arguing that "if the working classes conspire, they conspire publicly, as the sun conspires against darkness." On the other issues his views were more nuanced. Writing about France and Germany, he argued that it would be disastrous if the workers tried to use the existing state apparatus to further their own purposes. Some articles on England suggest a similar view. He argued that the political opposition was mainly useful to the government as a safety valve: "it does not stop the motion of the engine, but preserves it by letting off in vapour the power which might otherwise blow up the whole concern." Yet with the rise of Bakunin's faction in the International, he felt the need to demarcate himself from the anarchists on his left, not merely from the state socialists on his right. In an article on "political indifferentism" he warns against the idea that any involvement with the state is contrary to the interests of the workers, citing the English Factory Acts as an example of what can be achieved by working within the existing institutions. In The German Ideolo9Y Marx made a point that was later to be developed by the French socialist Sorel (much admired by Mussolini). A violent revolution is doubly necessary, "not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowin9 it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew." His later writings moved away from this view, emphasizing that a peaceful transition was desirable and arguably also possible. In 1852 Marx asserted that the inevitable result of universal suffrage in England would be the political supremacy of the working class, suggesting the possibility of a peaceful road to communism. In speeches and interviews around 1870
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he suggests that this path, although blocked in countries with a history of violent repression of the workers such as France, may be feasible in England and Holland where the political traditions are different. It is difficult to decide whether these were statements made on the grounds of political expediency or whether they correspond to deeply held convictions. Between the communist revolution and the full-blown communist society there lie two intermediate forms. The first is "the dictatorship of the proletariat," a phrase that has acquired an ominous meaning that probably was not present to Marx and his contemporaries. Dictatorship at his time and in his work did not necessarily mean anything incompatible with democracy. Rather, it involves a form of extra legality, a political rule in breach of the existing constitution. From The Civil War in France, where Marx considers the Paris Commune as a model of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we can infer that it also involves majority rule, dismantling of the existing state apparatus, and instant revocability of the political representatives of the people. In one text there is a brief reference to "crushing the resistance of the bourgeoisie," but again we should not assume that the phrase must be read with the sinister meaning that comes most easily to the contemporary reader. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a stage in the political transition to communism. In the Critique of the Gotha Program Marx states that it is succeeded by an economic transitional form, which Marx refers to as the lower stage of communism. Roughly speaking, it is a form of state socialism with distribution according to labor effort. Marx has very little to say about these two intermediate stages and their relation to one another. Perhaps he could be read as suggesting that the dictatorship of the proletariat is necessary because of the conflicts of interest that will exist between workers and the former capitalists, whereas the institutions in the lower stage of communism are necessitated by the conflict of interest among the workers, who will still be imbued with capitalist mentality even though the capitalist class has disappeared. In the final stage of communism, all political institutions disappear. What takes their place is the self-government ofthe community - a task, according to Marx, no more difficult than the control
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Marx's Theory of Politics
of an individual over himself. With the disappearance of alienation and exploitation, social relations will be perfectly transparent and nonconflictual. This conception of communism is massively utopian. Social causality will always to some extent remain opaque. There are many other grounds for conflict of interest besides exploitation: Even in communism people will disagree over protection of the environment, the rights of the unborn or of future generations, the proper amount of the social product to be spent on health care, and similar issues. Ultimately, Marx's vision of the good society was of organic character. He conceived of communism as a society of individual producers in spontaneous coordination, much as the cells of the body work together for the common good - with the difference that Marx insisted on the uniqueness of each individual producer. No such society will ever exist; to believe it will is to court disaster. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Introduction. An encyclopedic survey of Marx's political writings is Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, vol. I. State and Bureaucracy (Monthly Review Press, 1977). A valuable conceptual discussion is J. Maguire, Marx's Theory of Politics (Cambridge University Press, 1978). The capitalist state. The view that the task of the state is to enforce the cooperative solution to a Prisoner's Dilemma is argued in M. Taylor, Anar· chy and Cooperation (Wiley, 1976). Interpretations of the noncoincidence of economic and political power in capitalism include S. M. Lipset, "Social stratification: social class," in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (Macmillan, 1968), vol. 15; J. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (Allen and Unwin, 1961); G. D. H. Cole, Studies in Class Structure (Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1955). The argument for state autonomy made here owes much to D. North, Structure and Change in Economic History (Norton, 1981), and to the essays by A. przeworski collected in his Capitalism and Social Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 1985). Politics in the transition to capitalism. The contrast between "plenty" and "power" is taken from J. Viner, "Power versus plenty as objectives of foreign policy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," World Politics 1 (1948): }-29. Recent Marxist studies of absolutism include P. Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (New Left Books, 1974), and R. Brenner, "The agrarian roots of European capitalism," Past and Present 97 (1982): 16-113. A brilliant brief account of the English revolution is L.
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Another valuable book QY the same author is Marx on the Choice between Socialism and Communism (Harvard University Press. 1974). 1980). 1529-1642 (Routledge and Kegan Paul. Moore. A History of the Russian Revolution (Pluto Press. 1818-1850 (University of Pittsburgh Press. Trotsky. The Political Ideas of Marx and Enoels. 1978) and Marx et la Revolution Franfaise (forthcoming). 1977). Roemer. 167 . The prospects for communism in backward countries are discussed in L. Marxism and Totalitarian Democracy. Hunt. The discussion of the various revolutionary strategies draws heavily on S. Restoration. Marx's political thinking before 1850 is exhaustively documented and discussed in R. The Causes of the English Revolution. and in B. 1815-1871 (Princeton UniversityPress. A good introduction to the rationality of revolutionary behavior is J." Econometrica 53 (1985): 84-108. 1963). Politics in the transition to communism. vol. I. 1977). Reaction: Bconomics and Politics in Germany. Revolution. "Rationalizing revolutionary ideology. Among the many works on the French revolution.Bibliography Stone. Hamerow. Three Tactics (Monthly Review Press. S. two books by F. 1972). Knei-Paz. The Social and Political Thouoht of Leon Trotsky (Oxford University Press. 1966). Marx's articles on and during the German revolution may be usefully read with T. Furet are especially relevant in the present perspective: Penser la Revolution Franfaise (Gallimard.

We suggest that it is falsified and distorted in a systematic way. What are the forces that shape and maintain ideological thinking? The standard and. the interest of the ruling class. The central question. Nietzsche. not because there have been no attempts to do exactly this but because they are 168 . and Freud are currently seen as the great debunkers.9 THE MARXIST CRITIQUE OF IDEOLOGY INTRODUCTION M ARX'S critique of ideology has been among the most influential of his ideas. more specifically. On this point Marxism deviates from the Freudian conception of false consciousness. according to which it is necessarily the interest of the person himself that distorts his thinking. who taught us never to take words at their face value but always to look behind them for some psychological or social interest they express or some situation that unbeknownst to the agents shape their thoughts and desires. ideologies are shaped by deep-seated tendencies that help them survive criticism and refutation for a long time. not that of some other person or class.we do not simply label it as an error or misperception. which is usually left unresolved by Marxist writers on ideology (including Marx). Unlike an accidental mistake. official Marxist answer is interest. by causal processes that impede the search for truth. which offers little resistance to correction (beyond the general reluctance to admit error). as it were. a thought that is false to the facts. cynical manipulation is too simplistic. When we refer to a view as an instance of false consciousness . The view that rulers and exploiters shape the world view of the oppressed by conscious.the interest of the ruling class is supposed to shape the views of other members of society.a frequently used term for ideological thinking . is howby what mechanism . Marx.

Needless to say. including his perception of their perception of him. always stick to his official answer. Here. the object of individual attitudes is the individual himself . they have been spectacularly unsuccessful. say. his perception of other people. among the subjects.12 This difference is connected to an12 To be sure. With some exceptions. they must not have a purely instrumental attitude toward their doctrines. the Marxist critique of ideology must look at what is typical. cynicism in the rulers breeds cynicism. widespread. psychoanalytical theory does not try to explain people's political attitudes or their views on social causality. He also suggests that ideologies can arise or take root spontaneously in the minds of those subject to them. the mere fact that a ruling class benefits from the illusions of their subjects does not prove that it is causally responsible for them. By and large. to benefit the rulers even if the latter were in no way causally involved in the error. as in Freud's study of Leonardo da Vinci. this is likely to harm their interests and. the subjects fall victim to ideological misrepresentation of the world. 169 . Marx does not. physical theories as ideo· logical constructions. however. however. again. According to psychoanalytic theory. there have been attempts to explain. without any assistance from others. for some reason or other. They have usually rested on arbitrarily selected "similarities" between features of a physical theory and features of society. to that extent. Ideology in Marx's sense is not an idiosyncratic complex of beliefs and attitudes caused by a unique set of experiences. Although psychoanalysis may well address itself to the exceptional. There is another difference between Freud's psychological and Marx's sociological conception of false consciousness. successful indoctrination requites that the rulers believe in what they are preaching. It is a figure of thought shared by many people and caused by whatever is common in their situation. By and large. without any attempt to produce evidence for a causal connection. If. Conversely.his experiences. not belief. The Marxist theory of ideology addresses itself to factual and normative beliefs about society.Introduction unlikely to succeed. he differs from the Freudian conception of false consciousness by stressing the social causation of ideology rather than any individualized genetic account. mediocre.

has only partial validity. 13 The analogy. They can emerge simultaneously and spontaneously in the minds of many people. in the formation of ideology there is often (but far from always) an element of wishful thinking. In Freudian theory one usually assumes that the false consciousness is accompanied by an unconscious awareness of the true state of affairs . the belief that the world is as one would like it to be. because different people can accept different ideas."l3 Or one may hold that the emergence of ideas is itself a phenomenon that can be studied sociologically. corresponding to their social position and interest. To use a biological analogy. Whatever one thinks of this argument.The Marxist Critique of Ideol09Y other. at random. who are exposed to similar external influences and subject to similar psychological processes. though neutral with respect to the content of new ideas. in the way features of organisms develop by chance variation and natural selection. one may hold that ideas appear like mutations. 14 There are various further possibilities. False consciousness involves self-deception. as usual in such cases.is a construction. substituting for it a false representation.makes a useful distinction between the study of the production of ideas and the study of the acceptation of ideas. Any view of society true or false. Or they arise first in the mind of one person and then spread by diffusion to other people who for some reason are disposed to accept them. but this phenomenon differs from self-deception in that there is no dual belief system at work.an awareness that the person has repressed. it might look as if in some sense he can hardly avoid knowing them. Shared ideological beliefs arise in two ways. The sociology of knowledge the non-Marxist version of the theory ofideology . True. Or one might argue that social conditions. One might argue that social conditions. 170 . distorted or not . there is no way in which people have immediate access to the truth about society. can speed up or slow down the rate at which they appear. The assumption of self-deception in Freudian theory appears plausible because the person stands in a peculiarly intimate relation to the true facts about himself. Ideas that are "in the air" may appear simultaneously in several places. The Marxist theory of ideology makes no similar assumption. and then become rejected or accepted according to their "social fitness. 14 The Marxist theory of ideologies employs both methods. One cannot expect a dominant ideology to emerge by chance variation and social selection.

self-deception. The third operates in the selection of world though not uniquely detennining what will appear. as in the phenomena of wishful thinking. according to whether the attitudes themselves and the biases underlying them are hot or cold. as when preferences are reversed by redescribing the options.these are matters that directly engage their passions. Hence. cognition may be subject to specifically cognitive distortions. as in the story of the fox and the grapes. because beliefs formed in these ways have a better chance of being true and because true beliefs have a better chance of serving his passions than false beliefs. First.Introduction There are two kinds of attitudes that are subject to ideological bias: affective and cognitive. People often adjust their aspirations to what seems feasible. and perhaps surprisingly. set limits on the content of new ideas. hot or cold. 15 People who will not use credit cards if they incur a surcharge for using them may not mind doing so if there is a cash discount. how they think society's goods ought to be distributed . What they believe with respect to particular issues of fact and general causal connections are not matters that in themselves engage their passion. The bias that shapes ideological attitudes can itself be affective or cognitive. except possibly the passion for truth. A rational person would try to arrive at these factual beliefs in a coolly detached way. we may distinguish among four kinds of ideological attitudes. what they believe is morally required of themselves and others. Recall Paul Veyne's phrase: Beliefs shaped by passion serve passion badly. hot motivations may be shaped by cold cognitive factors. and the like. as when people have too much confidence in small samples or otherwise ignore the basic principles of statistical inference." What people value for themselves. or "hot" and "cold. so as to avoid living with the tension and frustration caused by the desire for the unattainable. 15 Third. Second. The first underlies his often cited statement that religion is the "opium of the people. all but the second have some importance in Marx's theory of ideology. 171 . Finally. Of these mechanisms. cognitive attitudes are often shaped by motivational processes." with the concomitant idea that religion helps people adapt to their miserable lives in this world. affective attitudes may be shaped by affectively biased processes.

Even. Hence. defined as the set of noneconomic phenomena in society that can be explained by the . First.The Marxist Critique of Ideology views: Among the many different accounts of social and economic causation. Again. If the subjects. One cannot conclude that interest-generated beliefs will serve the interest of the believer. Instead of pointing to the consequences of a certain belief with respect to certain interests. such class-based illusions will not tend to serve the interest of class members or the interests of the ruling class if its members are also victims of this mechanism. class position as well as class interest enters into the explanation of ideological thinking. economic structure. Ideologies belong to the superstructure.the ruling ideas are the ideas that serve the interest of the ruling class . The argument in the preceding paragraph was directed against the view that all superstructural phenomena tend to stabilize the economic structure by serving the interest of the ruling class. Marx's actual studies of ideological thought differ from his "official theory" . The third mechanism and the fourth are somewhat similar in that both can be characterized as pars pro toto fallacies." or that it will serve the interest of the ruling class. to reduce cognitive dissonance. it is often in a causal rather than a functional mode. however. limit their 172 . Second. this need not be part of the explanation of why they are held. Ideology formation by class-specific illusions operates when members of a particular class believe that the causal processes they can observe from their particular standpoint also are valid for the economy as a whole. because some of the beliefs of that class may themselves be shaped by interest. he cites the interest as the cause of the belief.in two ways. when he refers to interest as an explanation of ideology. because "beliefs shaped by passion serve passion badly. when beliefs serve the interest of the rulers. each group or class will select one that seems to justify special consideration for its interests. and. Ideology formation by wishful thinking operates when members or representatives of a particular class stipulate that the realization of their interest coincides with the realization of the interests of society as a whole. against the idea that the superstructure can be explained by its tendency to stabilize the economic structure. The last is important when Marx offers class position rather than class interest as the source of ideological thinking. by implication.

When this is the case. what is the causal role of particular class interests in shaping the class members' conceptions of the general interest? Second. political parties that are too manifestly motivated by self-interest will not 16 Whether the need for dissonance reduction corresponds to the real interest of the subjects. as was true of the French bourgeoisie in the events leading up to 1789. remains valuable and useful in broad outlines. Yet the explanation in this case will be found in the interest and needs of the subjects. an interest must be actual. Sometimes this belief is in fact true. As noted by Tocqueville around 1830. as was the case of the French petty bourgeoisie in 1848. Its demand for the abolition of privileges struck a profound chord in other parts ofthe popUlation. in which self-interest is recognized as the motivating force of all participants. 16 POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES In The German Ideology and in the political writings on France. whether it is also real in some objective sense cannot make a difference. for instance. they have no desire for political freedom. to what extent does the realization of particular interests coincide with the realization of the general interest? Class members. in the sense of an objective interest in liberation from oppression. Political struggle is not a form of bargaining. First.Political Ideologies aspiration level to what is feasible so that. The central argument concerns the relation between the special interests of a given class and the general interests of society. although somewhat obscure and hard to grasp in its details. this clearly serves the interest of the rulers. or at least accepted as true by members of other classes. Marx elaborated a theory of political ideology that. According to this view. Two questions are involved. the class in question acquires irresistible force and momentum. or at least their ideological representatives. is irrevelant here. To have explanatory power. When it is not the case. the class appears as hopelessly utopian and impotent. always think that the general interest can best be realized by measures that also happen to promote their special interests. a political ideology is not a pure expression of self-interest. Its demand for cheap credit was not seen as corresponding to anyone else's interest. 173 .

Three arguments point in this direction. it is easy to represent it as being in everybody's interest. one has to pretend to act for the general interest. For one thing. their own members." At the very least. and often there is strong and persistent 17 For instance. the nature of social reality and of the human psyche conspire to make it very easy indeed. given the complexity of social causation and interaction. it is frequently true that there are several institutional arrangements. When working-class parties demand redistribution of income in their favor. More strongly. First. one can argue that class members or representatives will actually believe or come to believe in the identity of their special interest and the general interest. For another. they usually add that trickle-down benefits and supply-side effects will work out in the interest of all. it is by no means difficult to acquire the conviction that the general interest is served by implementing one's own particular interest. more importantly. Let me expand on the third point. this advocacy would be politically suicidal if the last small increment of welfare of that group could be achieved only by a large reduction in the welfare of everybody else. they usually feel an obligation to argue that it will not cause massive damage to economic efficiency.17 When their opponents demand tax cuts.The Marxist Critique of Ideology inflame their audience or. that income ought to be distributed so as to maximize the welfare of the worst-off group of people in society. there is rarely full agreement among social scientists. By comparing the effect of a given policy with the effect of having no policy at all rather than with the effect of another policy. At the very least. one can invoke a natural-selection argument: Parties with leaders who do not believe in their own ideology will fail to carry conviction and gain adherents. it is not likely that any political party would explicitly advocate the distributive solution argued by John Rawls. which is of fundamental importance. 174 . Third. there is a psychological argument: Even people who initially are just pretending to argue in terms of the general interest will. "ils s'echauffent toujours a froid. after some time. all of which are better for everyone than a state of anarchy and each of which has the additional effect of selectively favoring the interests of a particular class. Second. come to believe in what they are saying.

Rather. it depends on whether their clock happens to show the right time. must be supplemented by pointing out that the explanation of factual disagreement is frequently to be found in value differences. In that case. Up to a certain point. because its claim to represent the general interest is more credible if it occasionally advocates policies that go against its particular interests. Among contending views on social causation. This observation. On this account. and notably among contending economic theories. Their success does not depend on the rationality of their programs. IS Because the connection is indirect rather than immediate. It is a bit like a broken-down watch that shows the correct time once in every twelve hours. all on the grounds of the common good. others arguing for an extension of the welfare state. At other times dissatisfaction with the current 18 It is sometimes said that in politics disagreement is rarely about values but usually about facts. A political movement.Political Ideologies disagreement. Sometimes it is clear to everyone outside the hard core of ideologically committed individuals that one program is better suited than another to the needs of the moment. on this account. and still others for giving freer rein to market forces. though often correct. it is often possible to find one that asserts or implies that implementing the particular interest of one class is the only way of promoting the common good. The offer is taken up when circumstances are such as to make it appear favorable. this is all to the benefit of the class. nothing is more human than to espouse that theory as the correct account of how the world works and to argue in good faith that everyone will be better off by removing all obstacles to the realization of the particular set of interests that just happen to be one's own. The "cold" content of the beliefs over which people disagree then goes together with "hot" mechanisms for belief formation. carry any implication that this benefit explains why a class sometimes espouses such policies. This does not. the impact of special interests on specific policy options is mediated by a conception of the general interest. 175 . because they are all equally swayed by wishful thinking. is a standing offer to the public. In a capitalist economy there will always be some parties advocating more central planning. of course. it need not obtain in each and every case.

The bourgeoisie would no doubt have liked an abolition of privileges tailor-made to its interests. It can be justified both as a contribution to the sociology of knowledge and. as Tocqueville noticed. it is difficult to contain democracy once it has been introduced. The universalistic political ideology they created turned out to have consequences beyond what they had intended. Before the modern age. Only occasionally does he follow the nonnal scholarly practice of arguing the merits of their case. When the idea of natural privileges ceased to be viable. ECONOMIC THOUGHT AS IDEOLOGY Any reader of Marx's major economic writings will have been struck by the way he discusses the views of his opponents. but it is not inherently objectionable. has to be couched in terms of the general interest. When choosing to attack the very notion of natural privilege. an almost zoological picture of the natural rights. presenting. in Marx's words. to be successful. however. and obligations of the different social classes. as part of economic analysis proper. duties. in which the views of other writers do not so much represent alternative approaches to the same economic reality as part of the reality to be explained.The Marxist Critique of Ideol09Y government is what detennines whether the "time has come" for a new party. also prepared the ground for its own future defeat by admitting its future enemy to the political arena. less obviously. The latter role arises because many of the economic theories that Marx dissects are. enforcing man-made privileges. in his view. A political ideology. rather than substituting one set of privilege holders for another. Much more frequently he takes a reductionist approach. but. and democracy. that success could be self-defeating. the bourgeoisie played the sorcerer's apprentice. The French bourgeoisie. Occasionally this practice degenerates into ad hominem abuse. when successfully demanding the abolition of privileges. Marx argued. little more than systematic expressions of spontaneously arising economic illu- 176 . political ideology was still particularistic. abolishing all privileges. the only remaining options were dictatorship.

as well as extensive treatments of Adam Smith. is ambiguous because the appearance. These contain discussions of mercantilist and physiocratic doctrines. he argued. The 177 . allows for two different antonyms. that their theories tend to serve as apologies for the existing capitalist system (or. which similarly amounted to a denial of the apparent movement of the sun around the earth. that which appears. Ricardo. which also means that the need for a social science will disappear. for example. and a group of writers that Marx refers to as "vulgar economists. first. Only in communism will social relations become perfectly transparent and the essence immediately coincide with the appearance. In their writings they do little more than restate the manner in which economic relations appear to the economic agents themselves. Yet. It may be contrasted with what is hidden.Value. The latter are hidden magnitudes that are not subjective realities for the economic agents. Malthus. Most economists are unable to go beyond the appearance of things to their inner essence. This was how Marx conceived the relation between prices and labor values. To the extent that the economic agents themselves make their decisions on the basis of such illusionary beliefs. that behind the visual appearance of a table is the atomic structure that forms its essence." The two criticisms most frequently deployed are. The essence-appearance distinction. and accessible only by the mediation of thought. that the economists do not go beyond the appearance of things to their real essence and. Marx's critique of economic theory is stated at (needlessly) great length in the three volumes of Theories of Surplus. as applied by Marx. without any attempt to penetrate more deeply into the nature of things. who make their decisions in terms of the observable prices. in the case of the physiocrats. second. they have consequences for the production and distribution of goods.Economic Thought as Ideology sions. In this sense one might say. pave the way for its emergence). "But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided. in order to explain prices it is necessary to go behind the veil of appearance and determine the values." In the 1861-3 Critique Marx compares his critique of political economy to the Copernican revolution.

the behavior of other firms is not "given" to them but represents solutions to their decision problems. Globally speaking. wrongly believing that what was possible for any commodity owner taken separately was possible for all of them taken simultaneously. 19 Another reading of the distinction is inherently more interesting. Similarly.) Locally speaking. Examples abound in Marx's writing of the distinction between local appearance and global essence. in an unplanned economy. Their general purpose is to show how. thereby committing the dialectical howler of admitting values to the realm of appearance. (In addition. but only partly because of lack of insight. which is not tied to any particular standpoint. of course. Here the salient feature of the appearance is that it is local what appears always appears to a person occupying a particular standpoint and observing the phenomena from a particular perspective. 178 .the confusion of essence and appearance . this is impossible: A system of circular cheating is logically impossible. Any given appearance may be contrasted with the olobal network of appearances.that he imputed to his opponents. A general equilibrium must be a partial eqUilibrium for each economic agent. any agent can make a profit from buying cheap and selling dear. as in general equilibrium analysis. this isolation tends to produce bad outcomes. Marx was gUilty of the very fallacy .The Marxist Critique of Ideolooy argument is invalid. because equilibrium prices can be determined without any reference to labor values. In reality. Marx observed. some writers committed the fallacy of arguing that general profits could arise in circulation. An example is the distinction between partial equilibrium and general equilibrium in economics. Yet. A full understanding of the situation requires simultaneous consideration of all these decision problems. His procedure for deriving prices from values involved using the rate of profit as a markup on labor values. In partial equilibrium analysis we consider an agent who is confronting a decision problem in which the behavior of other firms is taken for given. the isolation of the economic agents from each other distorts their understanding of the economic relations that obtain among them. it is locally true of each capital owner that he has a choice between investing his capital in a productive enterprise and depositing it in a bank in 19 Actually.

they offered a "sociodicy. he has to work for some capitalist or other. all of which performed useful productive functions entitling their owners to a reward.Economic Thought as Ideology order to draw interest on it. public benefits. unlike earlier modes of production. 179 . the vulgar economists actually believe that interest-bearing capital has a life of its own. it may appear as if labor is more independent of capital than is actually the case. Because capitalism. allows the worker the freedom to choose his own master. independent of the productive activities that alone can support it. Carey. In Raymond Aron's phrase." argued that an idle class of landowners and other unproductive agents was necessary to ensure that there was sufficient demand for the goods produced. this is impossible on a global scale. The freedom of choice obscures the structural dependency. Marx writes as if a doctrine could be refuted by the mere 20 Conversely. capital. were willing to draw the logical conclusion that the landowners were a parasitic class with no useful economic function. the effect of their work was apologetic. Bastiat. writing in the cynical tradition of Bernard Mandeville's "private vices.used a somewhat different argument when they referred to land. The other main criticism Marx addresses to the bourgeois economists is that their goal is not to reach a correct understanding of the capitalist economy but to provide apologies for it. The "vulgar economists" Senior. and others . if all capitalists simultaneously decided to withdraw their money from the bank. Marx argued. because if all capitalists decided to become rentiers none of them would get an interest on his capital. it would go bankrupt and nobody would get his money. Again. and labor as factors of production. The mercantilists were especially prone to such fallacies. for instance. The second line of argument is much less interesting than the first. however. Again. A quite different kind of example arises with respect to the relation between labor and capital. Although there is no capitalist for whom the worker has to work. The closest approximation to a truly scientific approach is that of Adam Smith and Ricardo who." a secular version of the theodicy: an argument that the existing society is the best of all possible societies and that all apparent blemishes have an indispensable function for the whole. 20 Yet. Malthus.

that this historical irony actually explains the emergence of the physiocrat doctrine. he had to assign it a meaning or function in his wider historical scheme . Yet from this misguided view they drew a consequence that was very favorable to industrial interests. except by accident. the demonstration has no implications for its truth or falsity.class interest or class position . they were led to deny that it ever takes place in the latter. who is then invested with power over man. a doctrine whose emergence in the first place is due to irrelevant social reasons .that of preparing the ground for capitalism from within the womb of precapitalist society. A doctrine that is accepted for social reasons does not lose any claim to being true. when one can show that a certain view is contaminated at the level of production. who appears to man as his creator. Marx's treatment of the physiocrats deserves special mention because of its frankly teleological perspective. namely. their view stemmed from excessive reliance on the appearance of things. Not content with pointing out the paradox. The physiocrats claimed that only land was really productive and that industry was essentially "sterile. Marx was especially influenced by Feuerbach's view that religion is a form of projection of the human essence onto a divine being. it would leave no survivors. Because virtually any theory is likely to fit the interest of some group. being sterile. ought to be exempt from taxation. this argument is too strong: If accepted. or strongly suggesting. when the ideological character of a doctrine is shown by its acceptation by a specific class. By contrast. there is a strong presumption against its being true. In religion man creates God. This 180 .is unlikely to be correct. Marx correctly points to a paradoxical feature of their doctrine. Generally speaking." Again. RELIGION AS IDEOLOGY Among the Young Hegelians.The Marxist Critique of Ideology demonstration that it serves group or class interests. Marx then takes the further step of arguing. critique of religion was a constant preoccupation. that industry. that under the guise of glorifying landed property they actually promoted industrial capitalism. Because surplus creation in agriculture occurs in a much more tangible form than in industry.

why some societies epouse Catholicism. or motivational. Religion. Marx believed that in communism all these forms of alienation would disappear: There would no social or psychological inertia by which the results of human action or the products ofthe human mind could take on an independent existence. explanation of the general fact of religion. Man becomes the slave of his own products in economic life by the subsumption of labor under capital. finally. we have to extract his views from a number of brief passages scattered in various writings. in politics. of creator and created. its encyclopaedic compendium. we may employ a distinction between the fact of religion and the specific content. as "the general theory of [the social] world. analysis of the varying content. class rule. It would appear that Marx proposes a hot.Religion as Ideology conception of an inversion of subject and object. As is frequently the case. will disappear together with the conditions that made it necessary: misery. others not. or cognitive. along Feuerbachian lines. In the eadyarticle. Marx never offered a sustained analysis of religion. To impose some structure on them. All class societies have religion. Next. by the subjection of man to an imaginary divine being. is at the origin of Marx's concept of alienation. its spiritualistic point 181 . and in religion. The interest-related explanation of religion is twofold. Economic self-enslavement will disappear when the collective producers take possession of the means of production. and then by the society becoming so transparent that the need for politics itself withers away. All class societies have had some fonn of religion: This fact in itself demands an explanation. commodity production. others Protestantism. because religion serves certain important interests linked to class subjection and class domination. by the usurpation of power by representatives or delegates. its logic in popular fonn. Political alienation will be eliminated first by making all representatives instantly revocable (under the dictatorship of the proletariat). and so on. Capitalism has Christianity because of cognitive affinities between the two systems." religion is characterized. we would like to be able to explain why different societies have had different religious systems: why some have been monotheistic. "Contribution to the critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law: Introduction. and a cold.

the inculcation was in no way a cynical manipulation. to the effect that religion encourages "cowardice. also met autonomous needs of the workers. Here the argument seems to be that religion is to be explained by how it serves the interests of the ruling class. its solemn compleRement. by the need to have a genuine faith in order to be able to persuade the workers to adopt religious beliefs that work out to the benefit of the employers. its enthusiasm. it cannot be dismissed as a youthful "humanist aberration" because Marx makes essentially the same point in a manuscript from 1865. Another alternative . indeed. The faith of the employers was as strong and genuine as that of the workers. self-contempt. submissiveness and humbleness" and thereby prevents the oppressed from revolting against their state. as a form of dissonance reduction: "the sigh of the oppressed creature. not by the fulfillment of a need of the exploited classes.an unsupported functional explanation ."21 A few years later he offered a more "Marxist" (or protoNietzschean) account. would employers have religious beliefs? More generally. the heart of a heartless world. He shows how religion. Thompson's study of working-class Methodism in the Industrial Revolution offers a more nuanced picture. abasement. and a well-supported functional explanation has not been forthcoming. Why. its universal source of consolation and justification. that is. its moral sanction.is no better. P. also preoccupied 21 Although this passage was written two years before the fonnulation of historical materialism." The analytical core of this exuberant rhetoric seems to be that religion arises spontaneously within the mind. Although it may be possible to adopt religious beliefs at will. the intellectual contortions necessary for this feat disqualify it as an explanation of mass religion. motivated by the extrinsic benefits of having the belief rather than by intrinsic faith. as Paul Veyne argues in a different context. just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. Moreover. 182 .The Marxist Critique of Ideology d'honneur. inade famous by Max Weber. though inculcated by the industrial capitalists. ligion is the sigh of the oppressed creature. It is the opium of the people. it had to be if the inculcation was to be successful. E. then. what is the connection between religion and capitalism? This problem. It would be wildly implausible to argue that the religious belief of the employers could be explained by this fact.

Protestantism.22 this practice has no other constraints than the inventiveness and ingenuity of the writer: There are no reality constraints and no reality control.Religion as Ideology Marx. the other that there is an elective affinity between mercantilism and Catholicism. In his comments on the links among capitalism. Weber's question was: Did Calvinism predispose to specifically capitalist behavior. the following "law of family likenesses". apparently. by the fact that money has two distinct features that point to different religious modes. On the one hand. Unfortunately. According to Calvin's doctrine of predestination. One is that there is a strong connection between mercantilism and Protestantism. Thompson asks a different question: Did capitalist activities predispose toward Puritanism? His affirmative answer again relies on a motivational mechanism. because Marx relies exclusively on various cold. or one very much like it. unlike credit. 183 . there was nothing the entrepreneurs could do to achieve salvation. He was confused. Because virtually any two entities can be said to resemble each other in some respect. and Catholicism Marx set a disastrous precedent for many later writers who have attempted to find "structural homologies" or "isomorphisms" (two fancy terms for "similarities") between economic structures and mental products. cognitive connections. which is related to the fanatical self-denying practices of extreme 22 Cf. these are implausible taken separately and inconsistent taken jointly. and like him offered an affinnative answer. entirely different.an argument that in the absence of further details looks like an unsupported functional explanation. E. can be hoarded. however. money (gold and silver). The nature of the answer is. but by engaging in "inner-worldly asceticism" they could and did achieve the certainty of being among the elect. Marx suggests two inconsistent lines of argument. P. such as a high rate of savings and investment? His affirmative answer relied on a hot psychological mechanism. Hoarding easily turns into an obsession. For any two members of a family there exists a third who asserts that there is a strong resemblance between them. Puritanism contributed to "the psychic energy and social coherence of middle-class groups" . Marx also asked Thompson's question.

Both arguments are asserted several times by Marx. 1982). Good accounts of hot cognitive distortions include 1. Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (Anchor Books. Nisbett and 1. or the physics of Newton in tenus of similarities with the underlying economic structure are equally arbitrary. see D. Kahneman. Motivated Irrationality (Oxford University Press. The only ones that can be fully recommended are Raymond Geuss. they belong to the cabinet of horrors of scientific thought. A good introduction to (non-Marxist) sociology of knowledge is in Robert Merton's Social Theory and Social Structure (Free Press. BIBLIOGRAPHY Introduction. 1978). Ross. and chapter 5 of G. Voyages en 184 . 1968). noncausal correspondences between different parts of the universe. has been one manifestation. and R. Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History (Oxford University Press. There are also many books that discuss the relation between Marx and Freud. Slovic and A. A Theory of C09nitive Dissonance (Stanford University Press. Tversky (eds. 1957). There are many books that contain discussions of Marx's theory of ideology. Jud9ment under Uncer· tainty (Cambridge University Press. The Idea of a Critical Theory (Cambridge University Press. P. money can be seen as the "incarnation" or "transubstantiation" of real wealth. A. none of them can be recommended. the philosophy of Descartes. 1981). Political ideolo9ies. and D. each serving to show up the essential arbitrariness of the other.the idea that there are natural. Human Inference: Strate9ies and Shortcomin9s of Social Jud9ment (PrenticeHall. in one of its versions. 1984). Like the analogies between societies and organisms that flourished around the turn of the century. In that sense the monetary fetishism associated with mercantilism is related to the specifically Catholic practice of investing relics and the like with supernatural significance. to my knowledge. Pears. On the other hand. 1969) and the notebooks from his American journey. Later attempts to explain the theology of Port Royal. 1981). Festinger. For valuable discussions of cold cognitive mechanisms.).The Marxist Critique of Ideology Protestantism. What Keith Thomas refers to as the "shortlived union of science and magic" maintained a subterranean existence of which the doctrine of ideology. Their common ancestor is the theory of "signs" that flourished in the century prior to the scientific revolution inaugurated by Galileo .

and B. Wartofsky. see Cohen. Bukharin (ed. "The social and economic roots of Newton's Principia. 1978). pp. Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin. 2. 1973). 1958). and Newton are found in. The theory and practice of signs is discussed in K. app. Max Weber's views on religion and capitalism are set out in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Scribner. respectively. Thompson's argument is found in chapter 14 of The Makin9 of the English Working Class (Penguin. 185 . Feuerhach (Cambridge University Press. A useful account of ideological struggles during the French revolution is P. chap. 1934). is an immensely stimulating application of Festinger's work to political ideologies in classical antiquity. 1979). and the Ri9hts of Nobles durin9 the French Revolution (Oxford University Press. 2. Paul Veyne.). Goldmann. 1981)." in N. P. F. E. Le Pain et Ie Cirque (Editions du Seuil. A good introduction to Feuerbach's thought is M. Hessen. 1968). chap. 3. 147-212. 5. Marx's Theory of History. Die Ubergang vomfeudalen zum burgerlichen Welthild (Alcan. For the local-global fallacy. 1977). see my Logic and Society (Wiley. 1931). Ideol09Y. Science at the Cross Roads (Kniga. Reli9ion as ideol09Y. For the problem of believing at will. 1957). anticipate many of Marx's views and remain passionately interesting. Borkenau. Le Dieu Cache (Gallimard. Descartes. see my Ulysses and the Sirens (Cambridge University Press. Class. Thomas. For the idea of a withering away of social science in communism. 1954). L. Economic thou9ht as ideolo9Y. Marxist treatments of Port Royal. Higonnet. sec. 1976).Bibliography Sicile et aux Etats-Unis (Gallimard.

186 T . First. it may be inapplicable today. the theory may have been false even when originally fonnulated. In order to avoid ending on an anticlimactic note. It would be pointlessly pedantic to spell out in each particular case what criteria are being used in what combination. in the light of the available data and techniques. statements that were true a hundred years ago may be false today. all of these criteria are invoked. but the reader should keep the distinction in mind. In the evaluation of Marx's theories carried out here. one should not blame him if it is superseded in the light of later developments. including some that are widely believed to be dead and hence in need of resurrection. Sometimes more than one of them applies to a given theory. I first consider the elements of Marx's thought that in my opinion are dead. Its task is to dot the i's and cross the fs. prior to the inspection of data. Third. I conclude by discussing elements that I consider to be alive. What Is Livin9 and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Hegel? There is little new in it. I reverse the order of the title. Second. so as to provide the reader with a convenient summary. even though correct when first stated. There are several grounds on which one can argue a theory to be dead. Because society changes. including some that are artificially kept alive and ought to be buried. A special case is when the theory can be shown to be false on purely logical grounds. although by no fault of its author.10 WHAT IS LIVING AND WHAT IS DEAD IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF MARX? INTRODUCTION HE title of this chapter is adapted from Benedetto Croce's book. compared to the preceding chapters. If his theory was the best that could be stated given the data or the analytical techniques available at the time. the theory may have been false at the time of inception.

We are in a much better position than he was to assess technological change during the Middle Ages. and as a result we can discard his views that essentially no innovation occurred from late antiquity until the modem age. gender. whereas at all earlier and later times the property of a thing has been conceived as a bundle of rights (and obligations) that could be and usually was split among several persons. religion . monopolies. suggest that Marx sometimes erred because he did not recognize what an exceptional society he was observing. whereas at earlier and later times issues of cultural identity . whereas in earlier and later modes of production cartels.have been no less important.race. We know that his views about the relation between the eighteenth-century British enclosures and the supply of labor to industry. because the analytical tools for the study of monopoly did not exist at his time. It allowed for a maximum of separation between the economic and the political spheres.Introduction To illustrate the distinction. whereas in earlier and later societies the distinction has been one among roles or even aspects of roles. far from being labor-saving. We know today that his views on the Asiatic mode of production. The enclosures. language. It approximated to a high degree the pure model of a competitive market economy. as a distinction among different sets of people. and state intervention have been much more prominent. Next. shared by many of his contemporaries. the industrial work force grew out of a general population increase. but the backward and forward extensions were frequently less successful. although probably the best available at the time. which I believe to be at least roughly true. consider Marx as an economic historian. rested on inadequate information. It brought class struggle to the forefront as the main determinant of social conflict. We can hardly blame Marx for not considering monopoly behavior as a possible explanation of the employers' interest in a reduction of the working day. were laborusing. All of these are exam187 . consider three cases. are in fact false. These statements. It can be argued that mid-nineteenth-century Europe was historically unique in several respects. though shared by all economic historians until recently. It realized the pure concept of property. Much of what he said may have been approximately true at the time. as full and exclusive jus uti et abuti. nation.

The third kind of mistakes are the most disturbing. Moreover. Beliefs born of passion serve passion badly. leading to the extinction of mankind. corresponds to the second kind of mistakes: Marx was wrong. but if lack of passion is a condition for impartial judgment. there are many examples of prejudice. but it is hard to see how he could have done much better. motivation easily subverts judgment. To wish for the first effect of motivation without the second may be to ask for the impossible. if morally less deplorable than dishonesty. probably had a more destructive impact on the quality of his work. WHAT IS DEAD? 1. as some recent psychological findings suggest. as when Marx updates British economic statistics when it suits him but retains the older figures when they support his case.What Is Living and What Is Dead? pies of what. Scientific socialism is dead. Against all this. There exists no intellectually respectable argument for the view that history is subject to a progressive pattern that can be detected in the past and extrapolated into the future. 188 . There is some dishonesty in his handling of empirical evidence. on the other hand. motivation and good judgment both contribute to success. On the one hand. in the above classification. which. his economic theories abound with purely logical mistakes. Certainly there is no trace in his writings of the scholarly practice known as playing the devil's advocate. To disprove this view. in that they reflect upon the quality of Marx's judgment. Finally. the price may be higher than we want to pay. it is sufficient to point to the possibility of a nuclear war. we need to remind ourselves that although Marx's passion often clouded his judgment it also sustained his sometimes superhuman efforts and his genuinely great achievements. There is no way in which a political theory can dispense with values and rely instead on the laws of history operating with iron necessity. There are strong elements of wishful thinking. The labor theory of value and the theory of the falling rate of profit are very poor specimens of deductive reasoning. as in his attitude toward Napoleon III or Lord Palmerston.

for what if the choice is between a short. even small pushes could change the course of history. A nuclear war would certainly be a very strong push. depending on his place in the network of social relations. It is also very misleading. or mass action . what are the principles that allow one to choose between different courses of action? Are they purely utilitarian ones. value problems may also arise. but denial is not enough. Tolstoy'S mathematical analogy in War and Peace. or dynamic stability. Without dynamic stability. because social interaction is not an additive process. is also undesirable and therefore try to stave it off for as long as possible. A special case is "the role of the individual in history. One might think that communism. Think of a ball rolling down the bottom of a valley. that the role of action is to "shorten and lessen the birth pangs" is to beg the question. that individuals are like infinitesimally small magnitudes whose actions are aggregated into history by a process akin to mathematical integration.or.communism will somehow come about "by itself' without propaganda. more peaceful one? In that case. is very much in the spirit of scientific socialism. however. political action must be guided by values. if this view is discarded. there is no reason to expect history to have the property of homeorhesis. an argument is also required. The horns of the dilemma are well known.What Is Dead? How could historical materialism offer an a priori refutation of this possibility? Moreover. To say. Scientific socialism is also flawed in its treatment of values. though ultimately inevitable. violent delivery and a long. as it must be. or are they to some extent also constrained by 189 . so that the ball is sent over into the adjoining valley." Any deterministic macrohistorical theory must deny that the actions of a single individual can influence history in a significant way. because if the ball is pushed off course and sent up the hillside it will sooner or later return to the bottom again . Either the laws of history operate with such iron necessity that political action is superfluous . If one thinks communism is desirable. with Marx.unless the push is a very strong one. The process is dynamically stable. leadership. The action of one individual can make a small or a large difference to the outcome. None has been forthcoming.

from the end to be realized to the means that realize it. According to historical materialism. to scientific socialism. however. ideas are both separate from and capable of having a causal impact on the economic structure. The paradox is that teleology explains everything by backward connections. whereas science proceeds by forward connections from cause to effect. In the the190 . the similarity disappears. in an apparently paradoxical way. the sense-data problem. is mainly associated with Engels. such as the mind-body problem." a phrase used as the antonym of dialectical materialism. no similar statement would hold for any form of philosophical materialism. and the like. Sometimes it amounts to little more than a statement of the general interconnections among all things. and even discontinuous.What Is Livin9 and What Is Dead? individual rights? Uncertainty and moral responsibility are part and parcel of political action. might then be defined as the view (or implicit assumption) that all processes are reversible and linear. a teleological philosophy of history became wedded. This doctrine. 2. Teleology and functionalism are dead. like scientific socialism. They can serve as useful reminders that some natural and historical processes are irreversible. but it is also a minor strand in Marx's thought. and well-defended version of philosophical materialism. The "laws of dialectics" stated by Engels are somewhat less vacuous. well-defined. as one attempts to make the statement more precise. and at other times it is used as a fancy phrasl for feedback processes. it would bear no interesting relation to historical materialism. In vague and general terms. there is no coherent and interesting sense in which any of the central views in Marxism are "materialist. except that the term "materialism" does not serve any useful purpose here. Dialectical materialism is dead. "Being determines consciousness. In Marx's thought. the form of dialectics codified in dialectical materialism is Quite trivial. To deny that they are testifies to intellectual hubris and moral blindness. nonlinear. In the second place." As soon. And even if Marxism had a specific. 3. although far from laws in the ordinary sense of the term. both doctrines can be summarized in the statement. "Mechanical materialism." No Marxist philosopher has offered any useful insights on the problems of philosophical materialism. In the first place.

public benefits" and is not in itself evidence for a tendency to rely on unsupported functional explanation. labor-saving technical change. the British Ten Hours Bill. is offered as a parody of Mandeville's "private vices. the paradox is readily acknowledged. This Hegelian vision retained a strong grip on Marx's thinking. and each is sufficient to explain everything in detail. he reverted to the Hegelianism of his early youth. the idea that history has a goal. that of efficient causes and that of final causes. These two. Hegel has been praised for seeing that history is a process without a subject.What Is Dead? ological tradition that fonns the backdrop to Marx's thinking. which espouses a robustly antiteleological view. history had a goal and a creator. Another supraindividual entity mysteriously endowed with powers to act is Capital. of course." When God created the universe. Yet he also retained. so that each link in the chain can be explained both as the effect of its predecessor in the chain and as being part of an optimal chain. at least in many of his writings. the existence of a divine subject. The main exception is The German Ideology. arguing that the immanent purpose of history was to carry mankind through the Purgatory of alienation and class conflict toward communism. This is individual rationality writ large. go together. in particular. and the prevalence of crime under capitalism. "There are two realms. Examples include the explanations of social mobility. as if the concept of a goal had a meaning apart from a subject for whom it is a goal. This reconciliation of teleology and causality presupposes theological premises and. in Theories of Surplus-Value. Yet later Marxist criminologists have taken it seriously and written 191 . he set up the causal chain that would best realize his goal. As Leibniz wrote. (The last-mentioned account. For Leibniz. as if Humanity were a supraindividual actor with the capacity to defer gratification. The numerous instances of functional explanation in Marx's writings usually take the fonn of arguing that some institution or behavioral pattern works to the benefit of capital and then simply assuming that these benefits provide a sufficient explanation for its presence. as if the other did not exist. because full unity could not be achieved in any other way than by a temporary loss of unity. In the major economic writings. state power. physiocrat doctrines. disastrously.

The other main pillar of Marxian economic theory. Most importantly. unfortunately. The labor theory of value does not provide a useful criterion for the choice of socially desirable techniques. with one important exception: the theory of technical change. There exist forms of functional explanation that do not rely simply on the presence of benefits but either specify a mechanism by which the benefits maintain their causes or provide lawlike statements that. The equilibrium prices and rate of profit can be determined without invoking labor values. (This exception is discussed in the section "What Is Living?") The labor theory of value is intellectually bankrupt. Even assuming that the concept could be defined. 4. Nor does the labor theory of value offer any useful insights into the possibility of stable exchange rates and of surplus. The very concept of the labor content of a commodity is ill defined in the presence of heterogeneous labor or heterogeneous work tasks. thereby counteracting and possibly offsetting the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Although superficially attractive because of its pleasingly "dialectical" appearance. it has no useful role to perform. nor does it explain the actual choice of technique under capitalism. If any connection obtains. Marx offers no argument for the view that tech- 192 . even in the absence of knowledge of the mechanism. the theory that the rate of profit tends to fall as a result oflabor-saving technical change. It vitiates the otherwise important theory of fetishism and detracts from the otherwise effective criticism of vulgar economy.) The point is not that these accounts are necessarily false but that Marx does not provide us with any reasons for thinking that they are true. Moreover. it is rather the other way around: Prices must be known before we can deduce labor values. Marx neglected the fact that even labor-saving technical change has the indirect effect of depreciating the value of constant capital. felt any need or obligation to justify their use of functional explanation. could be used to back the explanation. it turns out to have a number offatal flaws. Marxian economic theory is dead. is equally untenable. Marx and most of his followers have not.What Is Living and What Is Dead? about the benefits of crime against property to the property-owning class.

One might almost say that the obituary for the general theory. Other parts of Marx's theory can be declared neither unambiguously dead nor unambiguously well and alive. In addition to