Marxist Sociology and Humanist Sociology: Diversity, Intersections, and Convergence

ALAN SPECTOR

Marxist sociologyis at the intersection of Marxism and sociology;while humanist sociologyis at the intersection of humanist thought and sociology. Both see sociologicaltheory as a living, evolving activity, and both take a critical stance toward the workings of capitalism. The main difference between them is that Marxist sociology is a body of thought tied to a movement, whereas humanist sociology is a movement tied to a body of thought. Humanist social thought and Marxist social thought have both long been associated with major aspects of sociological thought. Sociology, at its core, asks the question: "What is it about people coming together in groups that impacts on their behavior and thoughts in ways different from if they were to be considered separate, isolated biological beings?" Within sociology, of course, are some who weigh what they consider to be individual biological factors very heavily, just as those with a psychological orientation heavily weigh what they consider to be individual psychological factors. But what is distinctive about sociology, what defines it as a discipline, is a generally acknowledged core assumption that people coming together in groups are not the same as those people considered as separated, isolated individuals. In the words of that classic clich6: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." There is nothing inherently "humanist" or "Marxist" in this assertion. That concept is also part of many religions and various conservative, patriotic, nationalist, and even fascist theories. But while the assumption is not inherently "humanist" or "Marxist," the modern versions o f those standpoints generally share that basic assumption of sociology. Many of the earliest sociologists identified themselves with social reform, particularly on behalf o f the economically and socially disadvantaged. A more conservative trend in the United States intensified in the 1920s and reached its peak in the late 1950s with the combination of attempts to seek government funding, the general conservative climate in the United States, and the particular way that quantitative methods were used so as to make sociology appear to be more similar to the natural sciences. Quantitative methods are not inherently Alan Spector is Professor of Sociology at Purdue University Calumet. He is past chair of the Section on Marxist Sociology,has been a member of the AHS for twenty years, and is co-author of Crisis and Change." Basic Questions of Marxist Sociology. Address for Correspondence: Alan Spector, Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, IN 46323. E-mail: spector@calumet.purdue.edu

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political. theories of fascism. While those unfamiliar with Marxism often maintain a rather limited set of superficial assumptions about Marxism. There are also the foundations of major European political parties. Marxism. culture.S. and those who founded major U. sexist. and humanist sociology is at the intersection of humanist thought and sociology. That having been said as a general point of definition. where social. labor unions as well as such cultural icons as Brecht. Interestingly. there is nothing in the term humanism that inherently supports the general social welfare of the majority. one can find the classic debate of "free will" versus "determinism" and "agency" versus "structure" explored and argued again and again within the framework of debates about "economic determinism". Sartre. In addition. While there certainly was humanist social thought in ancient times. debates over the "relative autonomy of 112 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 . Even today. there are those who identify with feminism. and "false consciousness". Picasso. It is also associated with social. the common connotation of humanism over the past one hundred years or so in the United States generally is associated with striving to create a more "humane" social world.) Within the general framework of Marxist rhetoric. Freudian theorists and anti-Freudian theorists are also included. one can find activists who participate in nationalist wars and one can find activists who oppose nationalism. early humanism was also used by some as a justification for the enslavement of Africans and other forms of exploitation. like humanism." and I use the broad term "Marxian" to indicate thought that is strongly influenced by Marxist assumptions or methodology. and often supportive of social welfare policies. and economic policies and movements. including the British Labour Party.conservative. One can assert the importance of a "human-centered" world and still support policies that are racist. and interpersonal relations oppose elitist domination. debates about whether various interpretations of Marxism should be considered "True Marxism. economic. empathetic. but when the complexity of the method is used to camouflage the absence of a balanced. generous. for the time being. political. while humanism today is generally seen as consistent with policies that are anti-elitist. accept certain core concepts of Marxist social thought. is more than a philosophical perspective. and Shostakovich. and oppression. (I use the term "identify with Marxism" as a way to avoid. or otherwise supportive of anti-working class exploitation or more general oppression. critical methodology. There are the millions who participated in the Russian and Chinese socialist revolutions. Marxist sociology is at the intersection of Marxism and sociology. modern humanist thought in the West is generally traced to the Renaissance and to the rise of capitalist institutions in the 1500s. It will be useful to provide a (very) short background to Marxist thought and humanist thought before discussing the intersection of Marxism and humanism. ideology. as well as many who opposed those revolutions. or may not. but which may. and the intersection of Marxist sociology and humanist sociology. those who have studied both Marxism and those who identify with Marxism can readily see that one can find almost the entire range of all social debates reproduced in one form or another within the writings and policies of those who identify with Marxism. those who oppose feminism. domination. it can mask conservative bias. and one can find Liberation Theologists associated with the Roman Catholic Church as well as atheists. And within the domain of Marxist academic theory.

The specifics of this will be discussed below. then Marxism is not a social science at all. Institutionalized humanist sociology in the United States today has particularly been influenced by the work of Alfred McClung Lee." which has been centered around the periodical N e w s a n d L e t t e r s and its founder. Lee and others believed that the American Sociological Association (ASA) had become a bastion for conservatism--not simply political conservatism. which often mirror the same debates within other. non-Marxist schools of social thought. There is also a small group of intellectuals and activists that explicitly refers to its standpoint as "Marxist Humanism. The psychologist Erich Fromm was a particularly well-known advocate of humanism who also freely used important aspects of Marxist methodology and theory in his work. including the methods of investigation and the assumption that theories can be revised. an important figure in the formation of the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) in the 1950s. But many sociologists avoid labeling themselves. activists. Of course. and ideas that are associated with Marxism.S. then there is nothing distinctive about Marxism. While Lee continued to support the SSSP. it is merely using the partisan rhetoric of Marxism for political purposes while it freely. where research and even advocacy on behalf of dominant institutions. sociologists would probably loosely consider themselves "humanists" of some sort. then it could be considered dogma--if not. often with the outlook of improving human life. in the sense that they believe that human investigation of the world can lead to a deeper understanding of its processes. if it strictly adheres to its principles. and generally would not explicitly identify with "humanist sociology" as a theoretical orientation. before examining Marxist sociology and humanist sociology. And if Marxism eschews dogma and asserts that it is willing to be constantly revised according to new data. teach and advocate on behalf of humanity in general as well as promote social activism. and in a thousand other contexts. it is important to mention that there are intersections between Marxism in general and humanism in general.the state". then it is not a theory after all! In fact. but rather a strong conservative approach to sociological research and teaching. but rather a dogma. this same dichotomous challenge could be posed to any social theory. who was secretary to Leon Trotsky. despite the wide variety of movements. Background: Recent Humanist Sociology Most U. and the government were practiced even as those same mainstream ideologues were criticizing as "biased" and "unscientific" those who advocated on behalf of the working class and the subordinated of the world. If Marxism considers itself different and outside the generally accepted rules of science. Raya Dunayevskaya. capitalism. pragmatically attaches itself to whatever particular conclusions are in fashion. In the mid-1970s a new orga- Spector 113 . there is a coherent core of assumptions that make it distinctive. he and others concluded that there was a need for yet another sociological association that would more sharply and explicitly research. Finally. But it is a core of assumptions that Marxists believe is consistent with "real world evidence" rather than dogma. and in the sense that they are concerned about understanding social life. one often finds Marxist thought challenged by mainstream theorists who confront Marxism with what Marxists consider a false dichotomy. In light of this complexity.

But humanist sociology does not have a unifying theoretical perspective.. This concern will lead us to probe the environmental.. Accordingly. We trust that the Association will continue to inspire its members to have an intimate and deep concern similar to that of our intellectual forbears about the nature of the human condition.. T h e r e are areas o f interest and generally accepted b e h a v i o r s that tend to be connected to those values. and the enjoyment of living . an interest in o p p o s i n g racism. Members of the Association consider that it is an ethical responsibility of social scientists to contribute actively through their scholarly practice to improvements in the quality of human life as well as to increase understanding of social reality. given the diversity o f views that call themselves "Marxist. The A H S was. capable of creating social orders in which everyone's inherent potential can unfold." it could be argued that it is difficult to find a set o f principles c o m m o n to all sociologists who identify with Marxism!) 114 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 . It is frankly existential and relative. But opting for such analysis and action does not imply that sentimentalism should replace science. absolutes.. and international crises with which humanity is currently faced. Consequently. Flynn as its founders. keeping in perspective that they do not necessarily exactly agree on e v e r y point.. humanist sociologists study social life with a value commitment to advance that possibility through scholarship and practice.. and is. not to be diverted into searches for such will-o'-the wisps as universals.. members engage in professional activities which emphasize the examination of underlying value implications and moral and ethical dimensions of society and social problems. is defined b y a general c o m m o n a l i t y o f values at the p h i l o s o p h i c a l level. and Charles P. and t h e r e f o r e . as well as valuing the ideas and actions o f students and other nonprofessionals and respecting methodologies o f study outside the mainstream o f intensely quantitative research. Rather than attempting to narrowly define "humanist sociology. to be effective. then. and study.. (Lee 1978) .individual freedom and dignity. (Hoult 1973) Humanists view people not merely as products of social forces but also as shapers of social life. One o f their major goals was to establish a c o m m u n i t y w h e r e those sociologists with c o m m o n . teaching.Humanist sociology is and must be value committed. sexism. and essences.." it will be more fruitful to include some quotes from A H S m e m b e r s and others w h o identify with c o n t e m p o r a r y humanist sociology. the Association for Humanist S o c i o l o g y (AHS). it does not suggest that the humanist perspective requires one to be soft-headed. (Then again. Humanist sociology differs from other types in its emphasis upon. an interest in helping to understand and solve social problems on b e h a l f o f the less p o w e r f u l m e m b e r s o f society. technological. (Gil 1981) The Association for Humanist Sociology arose out of a need for a more humanizing emphasis in sociological research.properly controlled science can be an invaluable aid in reaching humanistic goals. must typically engage in radical analysis and action. survival. was established with Al Lee. in contrast to the 'value free' emphasis of the past. While the AHS was v e r y attractive to m a n y y o u n g e r teachers and graduate students. age discrimination.nization. established sociologists. and its practitioners. including an especially strong anti-elitist tendency. based on friendships as well as on participation in c o m m o n causes. Elizabeth Briant Lee. and all forms o f anti-working class oppression. humanist values w o u l d be able to teach each other and strengthen each other in their c o m m o n goals to help change society. (From a general statement of principles routinely published in Humanity and Society) Humanist sociology. it did have a central core o f older.

is capable of complex. His The Sociological Imagination had implications for more than methodology. conservative sociology has made him one of the most influential sociologists of the past century. While nominally Marxist. The importance of his challenge to mainstream. sociologists to be associated with Marxism. They had a strong influence on Marxian sociologists in the United States (who have fewer qualms about using research from other social sciences such as history. of evidence rather than dogma. anthropology. some of his earlier work had important elements of Marxist analysis.S. encompasses a wide range of methodologies and assumptions. it does have some core values. W." it was also true that people were made up of society. The Frankfurt School.S. Wright Mills is the most well known of the 1950s U. He dismissed the language and methodology of dialectics as metaphysics. and he often critiqued what he considered to be dogmatic Marxism. as discussed elsewhere.S. there was a larger number of Marxist social scientists and social theorists in Europe. raised important questions about the possibility that U. Another of his works. It had little interest in promoting critical thought. embraced Marxism in the later years of his life. It exposed the strong pro-capitalist bias in the individualistic assumptions that underpinned seemingly "neutral" research that was actually based on the premise that what happened in society was fundamentally the result of what most people wanted and what was "good" for most people. however. subtle analysis. as did British historians and social theorists. sociologists. in the 1970s." C. But Mills was more a "Marxian" than a Marxist. its core Spector 115 . While Marxist sociology was relatively dormant in the United States during the repressive 1950s. At first glance. But in the 1970s. this might seem counterintuitive.S. He challenged sociologists to deeply grasp and apply the fundamental concept that while society was "made up of people. society might not be the pluralistic democracy so taken for granted by most social scientists. history. the Soviet academic establishment was serving the interests of a strong central government. and psychology than do many mainstream sociologists). like humanist sociology. The Power Elite. but he was largely isolated from the mainstream.Some Roots of Marxist Sociology Marxist sociology. Mills's work had a liberating impact on sociological research that helped shake it from its positivistic complacency.E. there was a deep interest among some Soviet social scientists in the writings of Talcott Parsons and other conservative U. but had insights into how those who made a fetish out of methodology could be hiding their own unscientific biases. and Mills wanted to distance himself from that approach. He believed in the methods of science. one of the most esteemed sociologists in U. which sought to combine insights from psychology with many Marxist concepts. had an impact. There was a tendency among some in the Marxist tradition to mechanically apply Marxist rhetoric to social analysis and close their minds to analysis that might contradict their conclusions. Interestingly. Oliver Cromwell Cox promoted Marxist analysis in his work on race relations and on fascism. Mills's qualms about "dogmatic Marxism" have to be seen in context. but by no means could the main body of his work be called "Marxist.B. including the eventual elimination of political-economic inequality. Also like humanist sociology. Its interest was the development of theory and research that would justify and strengthen the integrative. although Marxist sociology. cohesive aspects of the state. Dubois.

And as many of the cherished illusions of conservatives came tumbling down in the 1960s. radical sociologists were also often focused on developing a theoretical framework that could challenge the dominant positivist (pro-capitalist) framework within sociology. Michael Buroway published an important article in the American Sociological Review proposing that this would lead to a renewed growth of a strong Marxist sociology that could be freed from the conservative hand of the old communist parties. pro-capitalist research and methods which adopted aspects of natural science research. The ferment of the 1960s laid the basis for both the development of an explicitly self-defined group of humanist sociologists and an explicitly self-defined group of Marxist sociologists. were also often engaged in activism. In addition to their activism. While mainstream academia continued to reject Marxism. The humanist sociologists generally expressed their critique by engaging in activism. again demonstrating that within the broad area of what is called Marxism one can find a wide range of perspectives! (After the traditional communist parties in Eastern Europe were removed from power. However. the general opening up of broader intellectual discourse in the United States. it did so in narrow ways that led to pro-capitalist conclusions. but the emphasis was on creating a counter-community rather than on refining theory through sharp debates within their own ranks. Their activism." which had revolutionary implications. it largely embraced various neo-Weberian analyses which could try to account for societal conflict. but which did so within the framework of liberal capitalist ideology--"interest groups would inevitably struggle over their self interests" which had reformist implications rather than "classes struggle over their class interests. environmental causes. like the humanist sociologists' often involved providing resources to community groups.) The writings of Mills. and working to democratize the classroom through techniques to encourage critical thinking and empower students.S.was anti-Marxist. They presented theoretical critiques of the abuses of capitalism. the Vietnam War. Marxist Sociology within the A S A The year 1968 was probably the zenith of the anti-capitalist. They too were motivated by a sense of solidarity with the oppressed. Mainstream sociology did not embrace Marxism. As it came to question many of the assumptions of the conservative functionalists. of course. the power of elements of Marxist analysis to explain domestic and international "disorder" increased its prestige among non-Marxists. But their activism also often involved direct confrontation with the sociological establishment to try to force it to confront its complicity with the status quo to either change sociology or at least to help others see the biases imbedded in supposedly non-biased. there was a core of sociologists in the United States who openly identified themselves as Marxist sociologists. and the upsurge of anti-imperialist struggles worldwide led by Marxists had its impact on U. on campus and off. including those who were to form the organizing core of the section on Marxist sociology. But by the late 1960s. the Civil Rights movement. sociology. anti-racist and feminist causes. anti-imperialist protest movement in the United States. The radical sociologists. those with an interest in it were bolder in their pursuits. This included involvement in peace activities. especially motivated by opposition to the war in Vietnam. While the campus protests over the invasion of 116 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 .

anti-capitalist research and opinion. Marxist. In the United States. in order to raise issues of sociologists' active complicity with the Vietnam War and Project Camelot--a Defense Department funded study that investigated protestors in Chile. then Bobby Kennedy. Martin Nicolaus was permitted to give a speech from the main podium. empiricist methodologies that reinforced conservative conclusions that were a dominant tendency within sociology (Fuller 1996). The SLM was formed in early 1968 and first appeared publicly at the American Sociological Association Annual Convention in August 1968. The ASA Council refused to take a stand.Cambodia and killings on the campuses of Kent State and Jackson State in 1970 were more intense. Then in the summer. His speech electrified and helped solidify the militant. Jr. In 1969. The Section on Marxist Sociology was preceded by the Sociology Liberation Movement (SLM). 'and their palms. They also worked to empower graduate students within the ASA. For the next eight years. A year earlier. even by the mainstream's Spector 117 .. In France. and while its academic quality was derided by some mainstream sociologists. a "cultural revolution" involving tens of millions of youth promoted the idea of attacking authority. but did agree to poll the membership. a student movement sparked a general strike of workers that shut the country down. This was the context of the American Sociological Association convention in August of 1968. continued to combine direct protests with formal resolutions. There was on-going debate as to whether the journal should mainly promote scientific research within the radical tradition or should focus on strengthening activist causes. The Radical Sociology Movement (RSM) also adopted the slogan "Knowledge for Whom" and passed out a leaflet critiquing both the conservative content and the narrow. radical forces even as it infuriated some of the mainstream sociologists. In China. during the Democratic Convention in Chicago. while tens of thousands of students were motivated to work first for Eugene McCarthy. the journal The Insurgent Sociologist appeared as a vehicle for leftist. who was assassinated that spring. As a result of their protest. a group of antiwar sociologists presented a petition calling on the ASA to oppose the Vietnam War. millions of people all over the world witnessed the Chicago police aggressively beating thousands of trapped protesters and bystanders on the streets. upwards. The following year. Martin Luther King. along with other radical sociologists. they represented a particular reaction to those particular events.' toward ruling-class funders" (Fuller 1996). But 1968 started out with the Tet Offensive. His speech sharply criticized "fat cat" sociologists who received funding from g o v e r n m e n t and business.have been turned downwards' onto research subjects that the ruling class wished to study in order to subjugate them. the SLM was an organized force. was murdered and hundreds of rebellions erupted in cities and towns. about 67 percent opposed having the ASA take a stand. and they actually occurred during a year of decline in campus protests. it did often publish research that compared favorably with mainstream sociological research.. bringing the reality of the Vietnam War more sharply into the consciousness of the American people. "Nicolaus m a i n t a i n e d that 'the eyes o f sociologists. and other critical. The journal managed to accomplish both purposes. While about 75 percent of sociologists polled did say that they were personally opposed to the war. RSM members. a loose grouping of activists with a large core of younger professors and graduate students who were active participants in militant anti-war struggles.

The debates over whether to focus on activism. ostensibly for failure to publish. Furthermore. or developing theory continued. In 1976.own standards. like many members of the Association for Humanist Sociology. and many of the activists with the Section have conducted original research and published books and articles in various j o u r nals. succeeded in organizing an official section of the ASA as the Section on Marxist Sociology. organizing in the community and on campus. There was and is a contradiction in terms of time available. First of all. but were somewhat resolved by two factors. The Radical Sociology Movement's slogan "Knowledge for Whom" would later become the title of an important book by the founder of the Association for Humanist Sociology. As discussed earlier. some stayed and focused on organizing students and faculty. Some sociologists left the university and concentrated on community organizing. continue to be politically active on campus and in the community while trying to meet the requirements of mainstream academia for research and publication. Eventually." involved in exploring important theoretical aspects of Marxist social thought and who often relied on quantitative analysis every bit as complex as that done by mainstream sociologists. There have been primarily academic Marxist sociologists. although their anti-capitalist beliefs may have been part of the reason. There have also been Marxist sociologists whose main focus has been working within the Section on Marxist Sociology of the ASA (hereinafter referred to as the Section. the core of mainly younger sociologists. Recent History of Marxist and Humanist Sociology When we analyze Marxist sociology in the United States over the past quarter century. whose research often appeared in "higher prestige mainstream journals. and others. we can analyze the developments within the major mainstream theoretical journals as one set of debates and developments within the Section as an overlapping but distinctive other set of debates. the existence of contradictory trends within Marxian sociology was also becoming apparent to some social scientists. The Two Marxisms. But that notwithstanding. An underemphasis on agency and over- 118 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 . Many of the more academic Marxist sociologists have participated in Section activities (and have been activists in other venues outside of the Section). Perry Anderson wrote a piece on "Western Marxism" and Alvin Gouldner wrote a widely read book on this. especially debates over the relative importance of structure and agency. Some radical sociologists were denied tenure. But for purposes of discussion. many were able to combine several of those priorities in their careers. A1 Lee. Marxist social thought replicates many of the same types of debates found in all paradigms of social thought. scholarship. which contrasted the critical tradition within Marxism with what he considered to be a more mechanical tradition. many members of the Section on Marxist Sociology. the journal changed its name to Critical Sociology and continues to publish today.) This dichotomy is far from absolute. and some concentrated on research and writing in the Marxist tradition. it is important to differentiate between two distinctive but overlapping tendencies. led by AI Szymanski. and the pressures to publish often interfere with activism (and vice versa). Ted Goertzel. those with different priorities gravitated toward those options. Early on.

and that these struggles create situations where the State is not directly serving all Spector 119 . there is also the reality that capitalists fight among themselves. some were arguing that the State itself can exercise considerable independence of action from the wishes of the capitalist class. political. William Domhoff." causing the economy to occasionally spin out of the immediate control of particular capitalists. (This theoretical debate also has important activist implications.S. Also interestingly. as well as Poulantzas and others who emphasized the structural processes of capitalism as being beyond the control of the capitalists themselves. the debates over the mix/balance/ interaction between agency and structure is reflected in these debates. a reaction against the "relative autonomy" position developed within Marxist sociology. Others argued that the State (and Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Some argued that the Nazi regime was actually anti-capitalist--a State that spun out of control of the capitalist class. The sharpest opposition to this perspective came from G. not particularly subject to the "laws of capitalist development and crisis" as discussed by Marx. instituted policies in the U. and economic relations and denies the possibilities for change. Interestingly. An underemphasis on structure and overemphasis on agency could also lead to a very conservative theory that rationalizes the present set of social. a major debate erupted within Marxian sociology over the term "relative autonomy of the State. and government officials. and which also denies the possibilities for change. In contrast to this view. From a more Webefian standpoint. society as an oligarchy. despite the profound impact his book has had on Marxist sociology. Traditional Marxist thought asserts that the State is a tool of the capitalist class. military. then a strategy of electoral politics might be the best way to effect social change. schools. If the State can be separated from the capitalist class.emphasis on structure could lead to a very conservative theory. a strategy similar to that proposed by his theoretical polar opposites--the neo-Weberians--who believe that the State can be separated from the capitalist class. banks. Theda Skocpol and others did empirical research to try to prove that various capitalist interests were opposed to legislation that granted certain economic and political benefits to sections of the working class. Within the more traditional Marxist framework were the French philosopher Althusser. This approach acknowledged that the State might take positions contrary to major capitalist interests. By the late 1970s and early 1980s. courts. Domhoff does not consider himself a Marxist. with its meticulous documentation of interconnections among large corporations.) Research was done to bolster both sides of the debate by Marxists and other leftists. main organs of popular culture). one which rationalizes the present set of social. political." The debate centered around the degree to which the capitalist class controls the State (government. It is necessary to be imprecise about labels because the research of many who might not accept the label of "Marxist" nevertheless does impact on debates within Marxism. He rather sees U. and economic relations. Since change is a core Marxist concept. In the 1970s.S. whose book Who Rules America? had become a best-seller. The "relative autonomy" side actually had two distinct tendencies. but that such developments do not contradict fundamental Marxist precepts of capitalist class domination of the State. In addition to what Marx called "the anarchy of production. during the Depression that were in fundamental opposition to the interests of the capitalist class. Domhoff's strategy for social change involves struggling for control of the Democratic Party.

again with the caveat that most actual Marxist/Marxian sociologists often acknowledge the value of aspects of other perspectives: 1. or is class a subjective concept based on how people define themselves? The latter was more consistent with functionalist and other mainstream sociology. all of which might "intersect" at various points. Those who oppose class oppression but see it as a parallel form of oppression along with racial. and other forms of oppression." While many Marxists felt that this was an effective way to synthesize the criticisms of a narrow view of class with an objective view of class. Our purpose here is not to argue the "correctness" o f one or another o f the above. Those whose theoretical roots are somewhat eclectic. Those who particularly emphasize cultural and psychological aspects of domination and control. but that particular people might have aspects of both classes in their lives--a perspective that would not undermine the objective nature of classes in general. Discussing them as trends or tendencies is more accurate than calling them "schools" or "theories" because most Marxist/Marxian sociologists generally acknowledge the value o f some o f the insights from tendencies whose basic orientation they might dispute. 3. 5. Nor is it 120 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 . nor is it simply a state of mind.e. 2. an activist and theoretician with a more orthodox Marxist perspective. At the risk o f greatly oversimplifying. rests on a false dichotomy because it is analyzed in the abstract. one can find several trends. often referencing the Frankfurt School. Those who are sometimes called "Neo-Marxists" who try to combine capitalist market theory with Marxist theory. Erik Olin Wright helped deepen the discussion with his concept o f "contradictory class locations. although the author does not claim to be neutral in this discussion. where many workers own stock or rental property. Class itself is both objective and subjective--it is a relationship based on a process.of them. Those who see class relations and class struggle as the primary underpinning of society and believe that is the core of what makes Marxist analysis distinctive.) Paralleling and interacting with the debate over the State was a debate over how to define "class. Wright himself backed off from that view and moved somewhat in the direction of a more subjective definition of class. Finally. This view is sometimes associated with aspects of "post-modernist" thought. The more "objective" perspective was taken by A1 Szymanski. and where there is a large percentage of the white-collar population which are neither owners o f businesses nor exploited in the traditional sense o f producing commodities and being paid less than the value of the commodities they produce. Some Marxists believe that the question itself. but who have a general sense of solidarity with the struggles of working class people. In the 1980s. like many of these debates.." Is class an objective relationship that could be analyzed in concrete terms. one can identify several definable clusters today. gender. but the former was open to criticism because o f the complex nature o f stratification in the United States. capitalist social and cultural relations are contradictory and might also help feed into cultural trends within the working class which are counter to the interests of major capitalist interests (i. Others also believed that class was objective. it is not merely a quantitative number. the "Vietnam Syndrome" of reluctance to support major wars. 4. Within Marxian sociology in the United States in 2003.

and interpersonal relationships all have a strong impact on what a given person might think or how they might act. the roots are from where racism has developed. But Marx was a kind o f functionalist in the sense that he believed that the elimination of classes. Marx did not believe that all contradictions would be eliminated for all time. is an extremely simplistic reading of Marx. Many who are not familiar with Marx's writings take a superficial. His opposition to oppression in general and concern for the working class in particular have also been attractive to many social scientists. Of course culture. but his understanding of economic was far more subtle and complex than many people realize. the distinction between manual and mental labor." where economics is supposedly the "base" and all institutions and ideas are mere reflections." On the other hand. and one must investigate who benefits from various types of social arrangements. has perspectives on what kinds of modern "contextualizing" of Marx's theories constitute updating within the core of Marx's perspectives and what kinds constitute significant differences from Marx's theories. there are several core theoretical assumptions that make Marxism distinct from other theories. but rather come from their social environment.to casually dismiss certain views in order to assert "The One True Marxism. If Marx believed that ideas were not important. It is what differentiates Marxian from Marxist. one finds very few with that perspective among Marxist sociologists. schooling. why did he write so many books? Nevertheless. and the profits made from segmented labor markets are what originally fed and continues to feed racism. For example. but rather that any such contradictions that did emerge could be resolved by all parties working to determine what would be best for humankind. and oppressive governments instituted to protect property. which would lay the basis for a world where there would no longer be any social conflict. there have been some Marxists who do have a mechanistic notion of class. Marx was a conflict theorist insofar as he asserted that class conflict was inevitable as long as there were classes. But it is his analysis of the class nature of society that is what makes Marxism distinctive. the author.) Marx did assert that "economic" activity is the core of human social life. mechanistic notion o f economic class and assume that such a view is what Marxists believe. but in general. rather than what would be best in order to protect one's rights to dominate others. like a tree. That is not to say that an anti-capitalist revolution would immediately eliminate all forms of racism! But it does imply that racist behavior and racist ideas are not inherent in the minds of people. The oft-quoted Marxist concept o f "base" and "superstructure. stereotyped. Marx's use of the dialectical method has also been appreciated by others. to assert that economics is at the root of racist oppression and racist ideas is not to assert that every capitalist is automatically a racist or that it is impossible for a white working-class person to have racist ideas because racism serves the capitalist class. as do other sociologists. Marx and Class Analysis Marx's discussion of class has been misinterpreted by both Marxists and antiMarxists alike. property. While all the perspectives above share important aspects of Marxist theory. Marx's discussion of alienation as the core of human psychological problems is a powerful idea that many social scientists have explored. the stereotype continues that Spector 121 . (Unfortunately. To assert that it is at the root is simply to say that.

This is how class struggle ties into Marxist theory. Presumably. And perhaps more importantly. to be sure. His conception of freedom was not abstract and idealistic. Who controls production is what creates the conditions for distribution. ideas. It is much more than just saying that the laboring classes are the great majority and they deserve better treatment." Marx believed that revolutionary transformation of society was essential for the purpose of replacing the capitalist class with working-class power as the 122 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 . sexism. The most profound type of alienation. and behaviors that are. from having control over one's labor. No. which he sometimes referred to as "prehistory. The "Young Marx" was primarily concerned with the idea of human freedom. philosophy." While labor in class society is generally for the benefit of the exploiting class. to each according to need" which emphasizes egalitarian distribution. Furthermore." the actual processes by which people develop social ideas are far more complex than simple "brainwashing. very important to human social life. is being separated from oneself. Attempting to create equality of distribution without revolutionizing control over production will not necessarily create a world free from alienation. it is asserted. a world where classes no longer exist and labor is organized in ways to maximize all people's potential will be a world where goods and services are distributed to people according to need. art. "From each according to ability. To the extent that humanity and the working class in particular are blocked from this. religion. we are denied the right to reach our full potential. being free to act in the world without having potential blocked by class structure--to act to the maximum ability that each person can act. culture. how production is organized is also directly linked to whether humans will be able to overcome alienation." Many tend to focus on the second half of his famous quote. We are alienated. But the converse is not necessarily true." While the term "false consciousness" has been used in a simplistic way as a catch-all phrase to mean "why working class people would believe (socially destructive) ideas that are against their class interests. or they have the numbers and strength to overthrow the ruling classes. then. Marx's interest in class struggle is rooted in the most profound aspects of human life-production and distribution of necessities. which is to say.Marx was not concerned with racism. Marx was at least as concerned with "who controls production and for what purpose" as he was with "how much each person gets. Marx was only concerned about economics and that's why Marxist analysis is incapable of examining the complexity of social life. the egalitarian distribution will probably erode as well. without realizing that the first part of the quote is at least as important. psychology. But not just control in the narrow sense of making immediate decisions over workplace specifics. but rather rooted in the perspective that freedom to "be" was dependent on freedom to "do. at various times. but also to reorganize society to free humankind from class society. Marx did believe that it is our responsibility to act in the world collectively--that is what makes us distinctly human. and a host of other concepts." The popular conception of Marx's economics is that it is concerned with "equal distribution of goods" in society. freedom. and it is this alienation that gives rise to all kinds of psychological manifestations as well as "class consciousness. But Marx's economics are directly linked to his concepts of freedom and alienation. Control was seen in the larger sense of "class control"--whether the working class (in class society) and humanity in general (after classes no longer exist) will control both the processes and the benefits of labor.

It is true that some Marxists have sometimes put forward "class" analyses that connect the immediate problems to the class structure of society in ways that are mechanistic. On a more fundamental Spector 123 . Both are concerned about militarism. it is true that black working-class people are generally significantly more exploited and oppressed than are white workers. Both are concerned with ending class oppression. or child abuse. Convergence. Central to any analysis is exposing the class (capitalist) roots of misery in order to help enable the working class to become a self-conscious classfor-itself that will eliminate capitalism. rather than just settling for a temporary reform that may well be at the expense of another section of the working class. and some white workers do choose to aggressively protect their less oppressed status." understanding that leaves are not the same as roots. The same could be said for racist exploitation. Marxists strive to understand the complex processes in deep ways. while reform movements express the hope of oppressed people to alleviate their misery. Therefore. the twists and turns as "roots give rise to leaves. Marxists seek to develop sophisticated analyses that tie these immediate problems to their roots in alienated class society. the root of alienation.first step towards eliminating all class distinctions. the leaves can continue to live for a while. imperialism. or third-party candidates. The important task for Marxists is not merely to understand the world. or how to grade in a nonelitist manner. including the commodification of human beings. class relations. Racist ideas and behaviors by working class people could be called "false consciousness" but these are very powerful forces that should not be casually dismissed as easily erased. and war. while it is fundamentally not in the interests of white working-class people to support racist exploitation and oppression. class exploitation." In other words. crime. superficial ideas. and class struggle that define the overall framework. For example. Reform struggles are important as arenas for the working class and its allies to learn how capitalism functions. such as substance abuse. its strengths and weaknesses. and that therefore. but rather to change it. discrimination. Intersection. or different strategies to oppose militarism. human culture. racism. overthrowing the capitalist class and replacing it with a society controlled by the working class is the necessary (but not sufficient) condition for creating a world free from alienation and all the social ills that accompany it. as people build solidarity by working together. and Diversity The main body of both Marxist and humanist sociological thought have many overlapping interests. one dimensional. Both are concerned about the degradation of the environment. Whether analyzing macro social problems such as racism and sexism or socalled "personal" problems. and how egalitarian communism can function. and abuse based on age and physical disability. Within both groups one can find parallel debates/discussions about the efficacy of supporting liberal Democrats. sexism. or even simplistic. Marx's grasp of racist slavery in the United States is summarized by this quote: "Labor in white skin can never be free wherein the black it is branded. and human interpersonal relations. However." but still hold to the concept that it is class society. Marxists understand that "if a tree is uprooted. and ideology today. reformism will never bring an end to human misery until the capitalist class is replaced. the existence of cheap chattel slave labor prevents the white working class from overthrowing their own chains of wage slavery. oppression.

Marxists do not generally believe that it will be possible to convince the capitalist class to abandon capitalism by convincing them that it is against their own interests (although as individuals. organizational sense. The AHS maintains an e-mail list. but pollution is "good" for the capitalist class if it increases profits. believe that. Both the AHS and the SMXS draw the bulk of their members from non-elite institutions. both believe that humankind should strive for a world where all people should be free from oppression. the class struggle (broadly defined) is what is central to eliminating all those other problems. and members of the AHS have held positions with the SMXS. The conferences are seen as places to deepen the sense of community and where more isolated members can share ideas. including the presidency. everyone will be better off with the elimination of class society. and both believe that it will take energetic struggle to get there. but there are many who are connected to the Section primarily for theoretical or intellectual reasons and do not seek a sense of community through the SMXS.level. who are certainly as opposed to the abuses of the establishment. then." Pollution might be "bad" for a member of the capitalist class who gets ill from it. working with community groups and labor groups. Members of the SMXS have held offices within the AHS. such as in Nazi Germany). oppression. Humanist sociological analysis may or may not see capitalism as the root. at this point in history. Many members of the SMXS participate in the ASA convention and might attend SMXS sessions. however. do not generally speak about "what is good for all people" but rather "what is good for the working class and its allies. Both have many members who are focused on opposing capitalism's abuses. In the narrow. many will abandon the capitalist class if capitalism brings on severe crises. although many members of the SMXS often take a sharp. one can see similarities and differences between the Section on Marxist Sociology (SMXS) and the Association for Humanist Sociology (AHS). angry tone toward the establishment while some in the AHS. and alienation. that within the Section on Marxist Sociology are those who emphasize the cultural aspects of alienation in ways that overlap considerably with many of the non-Marxist humanist sociologists. militant. The SMXS has an e-mail list and many members participate with other leftist sociologists on the very active Progressive Sociologists Network (PSN) email list. although that is more the case within the AHS. 124 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 . nevertheless tend to focus on reconciliation more than confrontation. the capitalist class will not benefit from the elimination of class society. and AHS members maintain informal contact with each other between conferences. It should be noted. Marxist sociological analysis seeks to expose how the processes flow from the roots of class exploitation. AHS-talk. Both the AHS and the SMXS are based on strong personal ties among members of the core groups. but there is also the understanding that as a class. Marxists. Both have many members who combine activism with theoretical scholarship. including the chair. Humanists may or may not see it that way. Marxists oppose "elitism" but see it rooted in class society. although the SMXS does have some members who particularly emphasize research/writing while the AHS does have some members who particularly emphasize activism. which tends to see itself as a counter-community as well as a professional association. however. There is an understanding that as individuals. Marxists. including public and community colleges as well as non-elite private schools.

Participants in both groups are very concerned about "how to teach more effectively. In another sense. 1976." but those in AHS tend to focus on those questions more. one might conclude that humanist sociology does have a core set of assumptions that sees all of humanity as having common interests. rather than on the basis of which "school-of-thought" label could be applied to it. Presidential address at AHS convention. there is a difference. or analysis on the basis of how well it explains its topic. 1996. However. to a greater degree than many in the SMXS. both add an important dimension to the actual work of sociologists. Ted. Sociological Imagination." American Sociological Review 55 (6): 775-793. N J: Prentice Hall.rutgers. involved in the ASA.edu/si/ Fuller. 1978. Many in the AHS do not participate in the ASA at all. Anotation indicates that this is based on an earlier Spector 125 . and in that sense. contacts. those in the SMXS are. Albert Szymanski: A Personal and Political Memoir.vtoledo." Processes o f Ruling Class Domination in America. and especially those who might feel theoretically alone on their campuses to develop their analysis collectively with others. While the humanist sociologists exemplify a broad range of interests. Goertzel. and they provide a way for those sociologists. some in the Marxist section supported the U. The Powers That Be. In a theoretical sense. Domhoff.. Unpublished essay available at (http://crab. G. Buroway. 1990. New York: Random House. one ought to judge the quality of a particular article. David. although many participate in the ASA primarily to be a part of the SMXS. Abigail A.. Both have significant female participation and leadership. Michael. 33 (1). Fuller. one might see humanist sociology as a broader category concerned with humanity in general. 1996. military actions against Serbia and Afghanistan while virtually none of the AHS members supported either of those actions. Finally. resources. as well as some Black and Hispanic participation. 1998. Specifically. 1967-1975. William. Participants in both the AHS and SMXS assiduously oppose racism and sexism. and they are cognizant of the need to better involve those minorities in the participation and leadership of those groups. study. and other support for those sociologists who have a more critical standpoint towards the workings of capitalism. Perry. "Marxism as Science: Historical Challenges and Theoretical Growth.htm Gil. Who Rules America? Englewood Cliffs. Finally. evolving body of activity.Debates among Marxist sociologists tend to be sharper. sometimes acrimonious. 1967. as well as questions about organizing in general. ipso facto. . the Marxist sociologists actually vary more theoretically in the sense that Marxist sociologists' theoretical perspectives run the gamut from militant revolutionary perspectives to perspectives that see aspects of modernism in Marx's writings that lead them to sometimes support modernist capitalists in their conflict with supposedly more primitive groups. Considerations on Western Marxism. Producing Radical Scholarship: The Radical Sociology Movement. New York: Prometheus Books. OH. in that sense. References Anderson. then. Cincinnati.edu/-goertzel/szymanski. seeing it as basically elitist and generally proestablishment. They provide networks.S. 1981. albeit sometimes a very small difference. Accessible on the Internet at http://comm-org. between the two perspectives. with Marxist sociology as a sub-category based on more specifically defined (class) analysis. Debates among humanist sociologists tend to be more focused on points of similarity. both perspectives see sociological theory as a living.htm).

1978. New York: Random House Knapp. Princeton. 15 (Fall): 139-144. Crisis and Change: Basic Questions of Marxist Sociology. 126 The American Sociologist / Winter 2002 . New York: Oxford University Press. Second edition to be published by Rowman and Littlefield. and the Origins of Modern Social Policies. 1991. The Power Elite. The Sociological Imagination. 1959. Theda. New York: Oxford University Press. 2003. Social Knowledge. 1867. Wright. C. N J: Princeton University Press. Chicago: Nelson-Hall. Mills. Thomas Ford. and Alan Spector. 1979. 1995. Sociology for a New Day. Hoult.version that appeared as "Albert Szymanski: A Personal and Political Memoir" in Critical Sociology. States. Lee. Carl. The Two Marxisms: Contradictions and Anomalies in the Development of Theory New York: Scribner. 9 1960. Alvin. 1961. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. Knowledge for Whom? New York: Oxford University Press9 Marx. Gouldner. Alfred McClung. 301. Peter. 1980. Capital. Volume I. Skocpol.

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