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CNC0010.1177/0309816814564657Capital & ClassPaolucci


Marxs scientific and

political criticism: The
internal relation

Capital & Class

2015, Vol. 39(1) 6578
The Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0309816814564657

Paul Paolucci

Eastern Kentucky University, USA

Marxs method of critique via several philosophy of science categories reveals
logical problems, as well as political biases, within different competing approaches
of his period. Some principles subject to Marxs criticism include: metaphysics,
ahistoricism, false universalisation, inversion, reductionism, idealism, obscurantism,
incommensurability, and tautology. This paper examines these categories and their
logical bases, the competing approaches Marx targets as politically biased because
of their failure to either respect such principles or their violation of them, and the
way in which, by extension, several traditions in modern social discourse reveal
parallel political biases because of similar logical failures.
Method of critique, politics, philosophy of science, internal relations

It is a mistake to assume that Marxs political criticism of other theorists of his period
stems from subjective, private, and/or personal criteria he imposes from the outside.
Instead, his critiques of others views are steeped in scientific principles but are such that
they also reveal the political biases built into those same views. That is, Marxs scientific
and political critiques are internally related. If this is the case, it is vital to grasp their
interconnection, since only by doing so will we be in a better position to grasp the content
of the criticism Marx directs towards his contemporaries and leading ideas of his time, as
well as the basis of that criticism. The following discussion explains how this is so.

Corresponding author:
Paul Paolucci

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Capital & Class 39(1)

The philosophy of internal relations

A paper such as this is perhaps not the place to provide a thorough and detailed explanation of the philosophy of internal relations given that this is the theme of this
issue of Capital & Class, other papers will certainly cover some of that ground. In
addition, interested readers can avail themselves of existent literature on the topic (see
Ollman 1993, 2003; Paolucci 2009, 2011). That said, however, a few words on the
topic are in order.
A conventional understanding of reality whether natural or social approaches it as
a series of interacting parts, where the character of the parts and the form of their interaction creates changes in the parts in question. Here, causal connections are located by
examining how changes in one part or parts create changes in others: in sociology, this is
basically Durkheims approach to social facts. This is approach is less wrong than it is
limited and even, at times, distorting. The distortion arises from the idea that reality is
fluid, interconnected, mutually conditioning, dynamic and complex. Abstracting it into
discreet parts to think about and study produces an outlook that is less than sufficient
to adequately grasp such interconnections, fluidity and dynamism. This distortion is
thus why it is limited.
The internal relations approach is meant as a corrective to the more external relations approach outlined above. In the internal relations view, reality is assumed to be
made up of phenomena that are interconnected with one another, rather than having
discrete object boundaries. In addition, this view thus assumes that we must abstract
these interconnections into our conceptualisation of the world rather than abstract them
out of view. That is, by drawing clear-cut boundaries between our objects of consideration, we abstract their interconnections out of view, and these only come into view by
accident when we try to reconstruct the influence of one on the other as contingent
phenomena in a proposed causal chain. Put another way, in abstracting discrete boundaries between social phenomena, we do unnecessary violence to the reality we wish to
grasp. If we start with the assumption of realitys interconnections, then our practices of
abstraction and conceptualisation must incorporate such internal relations.
The internal relations view does not deny that reality is made up of things that cause
changes in each other, but it approaches this fact by conceiving of things as relationships
and processes contained internally within and between such things. For example, Marxs
concept of a mode of production does not stand alone, but rather contains class relations, technical capacity, exploitation of labour and so on. That is, these latter concepts
are contained internally within the concept of a mode of production and not externally
contingent phenomena. This view extends to the general overall view of phenomena,
both social and natural.
How does this outlook apply to the question at hand, that of the interconnection
between Marxs form of scientific critique and the political criticisms he applies to various theories, views, and approaches? In the conventional external relations view, a theory
or approach might be criticised for some sort of logical error, but the political criticism
it might receive comes from an external source, some outside set of criteria and considerations. Marxs approach, on the other hand, offers a form of criticism that is based on
logical/scientific criteria as well; but, given internal relations, this criticisms basis also

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contains within it the source of political critique. The remainder of this paper develops
this assertion and provides examples of its demonstration.

The method of critique

How one breaks the world apart mentally into thinking units and gives them meaning
the practices of abstraction and conceptualisation has political implications, whether
the one making these abstractions and/or his/her reader recognises this or not. Knowledge
that presents itself as science may confirm, deny, support, question, or remain silent on
commonly held assumptions about social relations (classes, states, religions, for instance),
and/or schools of scientific thought. One might say that knowledge is always political.
When examining any theoretical formulation or even an empirical claim, a method
of critique is necessary because erroneous reason produces untrustworthy knowledge.
Perhaps Marxs overall conclusion about poorly formed knowledge constructs for
example, his Critique of Hegel is that they are a product of mysticism (Marx 1975a:
12). We can think of mysticism as a fundamentally distorted understanding of the world
or phenomenon. In his critiques of competing outlooks, Marxs goal is thus analysing
the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether in a religious or a
political form (Marx 1975b: 144). In such critiques, he tells us to avoid vulgar criticism, which is dogmatic and thus false, and instead to strive for true criticism, which
examines the inner and specific logic of a theory, assertion, or framework (Marx 1975a:
91). Understood this way, critique is a vital starting-point for ever-improved methods of
investigation and discovery.
Marx and Engels, in The German Ideology, assert that Not only in its answers, even
in its questions there was a mystification in the Hegelian tradition (Marx and Engels
1976: 28). This accusation of mysticism can be applied to several other views targeted by
Marxs critiques, including his objections to metaphysics, ahistoricism and false universalisation, the inversions of idealism and reductionism, obscurantism and imprecision,
and incommensurability and tautology.1 After explaining his objections, I provide examples that demonstrate the problems he sees in such approaches, including various ways of
conceptualising capitalism as a system, problematic models of class, labour, and property,
and flawed assumptions about money, religion and the state.

Metaphysics, ahistoricism and false

Marx, in many places, rejects metaphysical assumptions about the social world. For
instance, his 1846 letter to Annenkov derides metaphysical models as approaches in
which abstractions are themselves formulas which have been slumbering in the bosom
of God the Father since the beginning of the world, and as eternal formulas without
origin or progress (Marx 1982: 100, 102). In this critique, metaphysical propositions are
those that assert forces that are intangible, transhistorical, and self-acting; whereas in his
view, History does nothing history is not a person apart, using man as a means for
its own particular aims (Marx and Engels 1956: 125; emphases in the original). If it has
origin or progress, then a social force cannot be transhistorical, while self-acting forces

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Capital & Class 39(1)

operate outside of human agency, a view Marx repeatedly denounces.2 Similarly, Marx
agrees that the old economists misunderstood the nature of economic laws when they
likened them to the laws of physics and chemistry, in that one should not presume universal law-like regularly in the study of political economy (Marx 1992c*: 28). By extension, if one posits that history unfolds through analogous timeless, self-organising laws,
then one has made a metaphysical ahistorical proposition. Marx warns us, however,
History does not proceed so categorically (Marx 1847: 128).
Concepts should be carved in a manner appropriate to the temporal and spatial features of the empirical matter at hand. True, broader abstractions provide a more adequate
grasp of history, capitalism and the temporal moments of each, but if one carves abstractions too broadly then they risk overextending their abstractions and missing what is
unique and necessary to understand about specific systems for example, Marx criticises
Hegel because his abstractions will be applicable to anything and everything actual
(Marx 1975a: 15). At the same time, if one carves abstractions too narrowly, it is more
difficult to connect with wider historical realities and ones framework risks falsely
depicting particular social circumstances as reflecting universal relations. The political
problem, he tells us, in the mystery of the Hegelian philosophy is its uncritical and
mystical way of interpreting an old world-view in terms of a new one (Marx 1975a: 83;
emphases in the original). If the world unfolds in a forward temporal direction and concepts used to analyse it are carved as eternal categories, the result is a false depiction of
the current historical moment as expressing universal and necessary relations and therefore the contemporary world is depicted as a metaphysical product of nature. Beyond
political bias built into concepts, this approach extends into social practices in that if
ones world-view assumes reality is set up this way, then criticism and action against that
world appears nave and quixotic.
Marx writes, Whenever we speak of production, then, what is meant is always production at a definite stage of social development (Marx 1973: 85). Though this should
be self-evident, a problem arises when abstractions conflate what is capitalism-specific
with general abstractions and, as a result, the historicity of the phenomenon is totally
obliterated (Sayer 1987: 130). For example, news commentators and politicians very
often refer to the economy when speaking of capitalist forms of production, circulation,
and consumption, the former a general and non-specific concept and the latter a historically specific mode of production. This sort of conflation makes capitalism appear to be
identical to and coterminous with economics as a general concept, without historical
origin or differentiation. A Marxist take on this practice sees it as the influence of capitalisms material base on the sorts of knowledge structures produced within it. Capitalism
not only presents itself as a universal, and common cultural abstractions often reflect
this, but such abstractions usually fail to incorporate contradictory and exploitative relations in their understanding of our modern capitalist economy. As a result, when people
encounter the realities associated with contradictions and exploitation, they do not have
the necessary tools to grasp and understand them adequately (more below).
Sociology as a discipline also participates in a similar set of malformed concepts. When
depicting social institutions, sociology tends to pitch them at the level of society in general: Religion, The Family, Governance, Economics, Education, and so on. Mainstream
sociology, outside its left-tradition, hardly ever directly addresses the modern world in

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terms of it being a capitalist society. Yet it would be hard to imagine an anthropologist

studying a culture and taking time to examine its kinship structures, forms of status, gender roles, conflicts with neighbours, forms of cosmology, rites of passage and so on without ever mentioning whether the society in question was one of hunter-gatherers, simple
agriculture, pastoralists, etc. (the closest sociology gets normally is industrial society or
modernity versus post-modernity). As such, sociologys conservative bent, in part,
comes from constructing historically dislocated models as if our modern social system did
not have laws specific to it.3 Politically, the function is a mystifying false universalisation
of our modern institutions that gives them a conceptual veneer as if they do in fact represent phenomena common to all time and place (Durkheimian and other sociological
approaches to religion come to mind). To conceptualise our conditions in capitalist society as a product of universal laws accepts and then covers up contemporary power relations and their real historical origins. This observation is more than simply pointing out a
logical error, but rather instructs us on one way Marxs scientific and political criticism are
internally related. Questions as well as answers coming from this sort of starting-point will
be politically biased and logically malformed.

Inversion: Idealism and reductionism

Social relations, for an idealist approach, develop and history unfolds because of the
attitudes, values, beliefs, and perceptions of individual people added up collectively oneby-one, where public consciousness is a mere potpourri of thoughts and opinions of the
many, a view that is just one illusion of practical consciousness (Marx 1975a: 612).
For Marx, because they always predate it, individuality must be placed in a historicalstructural context, and it is precisely this organic unity which Hegel has failed to construct (Marx 1975a: 58; emphasis in the original). Thus, in reference to any approach
that reduces structural-sociological phenomena down to collective individuals and their
subjectivities, Marx and Engels retort, Ideas cannot carry anything out at all. In order to
carry out ideas men are needed who dispose of a certain practical force (Marx and Engels
1956: 160; emphasis in the original). Marx, as a result, warns against any approach that
confuses ideas and things (Marx 1982: 96).
Marx refers to such problems as inversion. He writes: Another consequence of
[Hegels] mystical speculation is that a particular empirical existent is regarded as the
embodiment of the idea. Again, it makes a deep mystical impression to see a particular
empirical existent posited by the idea, and thus to meet at every state an incarnation of
God (Marx 1975a: 39; emphases in the original). Thus, Hegels metaphysical view that
the concrete is produced by the actual idea is indicative of his tendency toward the
inversion of subject and predicate, or, in other words, a reversal of the causal relationship (Marx 1975a: 9, 12). The problem manifests itself in the view that the material
world reflects the mental world of a transcendent human nature and actions of individuals added up, which not only inverts causal forces but, as Marx says, this sort of idealism
tends to glorify the existing state of things (Marx 1992a: 29). When reductionism,
idealism, and ahistoricism converge, current individuality tends to be falsely historicised
for universal human nature, an analytical problem as well as a political bias for both
philosophy and political economy.4

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Capital & Class 39(1)

To push the analysis further, should an analyst conflate capitalism with society, and
ground his or her ontology in a form of individualistic reductionism, what is likely to
result are situations in which things like modern slavery or imperialism appear not as
products of a capitalism unleashed, but as the outcome of policy blunders or the morality
(or lack thereof ) of actors sitting at the systems loci of wealth and power. Though true
such actors may behave in ways that shock everyday moral consciousness, Marx reminds
us that those atop the business class act as capital personified (Marx 1992b: 151). Just
as royalty-as-an-institution itself is rarely blamed for the crimes of royals, The extreme
forms of this system, its abuse in the cruel and incredible extension of the working-day
are naturally passed over in silence. Capital only speaks of the system in its normal
form (Marx 1992b: 248).

Obscurantism through imprecision

If an analytical framework distorts more than clarifies, it fails to strip away the veil of
obscurity (Marx 1983: 109). So, in Capital, Marx criticises one author with, What
clearness and precision of ideas and language! (Marx 1992b: 95, n. 2). Ideas and language or analytical frameworks and conceptualisations of reality must not only be
carved at the appropriate level of historical generality for the subject matter, but they
must also capture its most important structural relationships. Marx thus criticised conventional political economys attempt to stick fast at the simplest economic relations,
which, conceived by themselves, are pure abstractions; but these relations are, in reality,
mediated by the deepest antithesis, and represent only one side, in which the full expression of the antitheses is obscured (Marx 1973: 248). Any model that aspires to truly
grasp how the capitalist system works, but omits the analysis of class relationships and
the struggles they entail micro-economics, for instance simply cannot capture the
larger picture. Class struggle is central to this larger picture, and any approach that constructs abstract models that leave this core feature out is fundamentally flawed scientifically, and politically biased.
One method Marx uses to designate different modes of production is to categorise
them based on whether or not they are class systems, where different modes of appropriating wealth from labourers to owners distinguish slavery from feudalism, and both from
capitalism. As his internal relations philosophy of science places the core meanings of his
concepts inside one another (often with different levels of extension based upon what
vantage point he is using; see Ollman 2003), a mode of appropriation is interiorised into
his notions of production, class and class struggle, the origin of private property, practices of the state, and so on. Any failure to incorporate these ideas into one another
would produce an imprecise and obscure theory of capital, that is the modern order of
society (Marx 1979: 324).
Consequently, if one separates the labour-capital relation as an external rather than
internal relation, and also omits the concept of appropriation from that relation, confusion results. For instance, it is not uncommon to find news reports and economists
reporting that the economy is in good shape when productivity, GNP, profits, and/or
stock market values are up, while, at the same time, they come off as flummoxed by corresponding levels of lower standards of living, rising unemployment and poverty, and

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shrinking middle classes (Economists are not sure why this is happening, says the
breathless reporter; the oxymoronic concept of a jobless recovery is regularly used in
broadcasts without comment or embarrassment). With the capitallabour relation fractured conceptually, and with appropriation of wealth from the latter to the former omitted from the framework, the health of the economy is often based on the conditions of
wealth extraction enjoyed by capitalists, though the conditions working classes suffer are
not treated similarly (the exception being in times of recession, when unemployment
and/or consumer spending is noted as an indicator, though even here the conditions of
capital accumulation lead the concerns). The interconnection between class polarisation
is difficult to impossible to grasp without the kinds of tools Marx offers: that is, class
exploitation and wealth appropriation. Profits are an appropriation of labours expenditure. GNP and productivity measures can increase with higher rates of labour exploitation, and stock markets can increase in paper value during merges and mass layoffs (e.g.
in the USA in the1980s-1990s). Interiorising class relations and the attendant forms of
appropriation helps clarify what appears as a paradox in the conventional view. Thus the
conventional abstractive strategy obliterates capitalisms core class antagonisms, a conceptual malformation with political bias built right into it.
Conventional sociology often does this as well. In what seems to be a neutral and
objective (if admittedly flawed by even mainstream scholars) method of measuring class,
a taxonomic scale based on income ($0-$10,000, $10,001-$25,000, $25,001-$50,000,
$50,001-$100,000, and $100,001 and above) similarly omits the reality of appropriation and has no method of showing how the wealth accumulated at the top 1-5 per cent
of households (not even available in common measures constructed as separate categories, such as the ones above) is a product of the exploitation of labour from below. In fact,
though this approach can show levels of inequality, such a taxonomic ordering of class
simply cannot show the relationship of wealth concentrating because of exploitation and
appropriation, which is perhaps the single most important economic relationship
between classes in capitalist society.

Incommensurability and tautology

For Marx in the Grundrisse, Two things are only commensurable if they are of the same
nature (Marx 1973: 613; emphasis in the original). In Capital, he defines commensurable things even more succinctly as those that are qualitatively equal (Marx 1992b: 65).
In the moment of analysis, if one takes two essentially different principles and social
conditions as being different manifestations of the same principle, then one has made
an error of incommensurability (the opposite principle applies to tautology, more below)
(Marx 1975a: 112). For example, in political-economic studies, it is common to equate
labour as producing utilities with labour creating value as analogous things rather
than as a distinction between two aspects of the process of production (Marx 1992b:
191). Such an analysis is not simply incorrect where, for example, one might falsely
conclude that 2+2=7, but equates realities that have no common basis, which results in
conclusions that are incomprehensible (Marx 1992b: 125, n. 1).
With this in mind, we can better understand some of Marxs positions with his
views on property, wage labour, and the labour theory of value being three ready

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Capital & Class 39(1)

examples. In terms of property, the capitalist mode of conception (Marx 1971: 465)
holds up property in capitalist society as being the same thing as property in general:
All production is appropriation of nature on the part of an individual within and through a
specific form of society. In this sense it is a tautology to say that property (appropriation) is a
precondition of production. But it is altogether ridiculous to leap from that to a specific form
of property, e.g. private property. (Marx 1973: 87)

The viewpoint Marx criticises here assumes all forms of property to be of the same
universal nature, and thus posits capitalist property relations as natural and eternal. This
is especially egregious when personal possessions (my shoes, your car) and ownership of
the means of production (land, factories, stocks) are seen as commensurable forms of
property. Such a conception makes radical critiques of capital appear to be the same as
criticism of personal goods, and thus any similar criticism appears to be an unrealistic
struggle against reasonable prerequisites of organising a society.
A similar thing happens in the capitalist mode of conception of labour. The idea that
wage labour might be abolished sounds just as outlandish to many people as does the
dismantling of private property (again, equated as the same thing as personal possessions). As The Manifesto of the Communist Party states,
It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property all work will cease, and universal
laziness will overtake us. According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone
to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and
those who acquire anything, do not work. The whole of this objection is but another expression
of the tautology: that there can no longer be any wage-labour when there is no longer any
capital. (Marx and Engels 1978: 486)

Though it is formally true that if there is no wage-labour there can be no capital, the
ideological stumbling point is that once capitalist property relations are seen as natural
products, then the abolition of wage-labour appears to court the destruction of society as
a whole without capital, there can be no society. This sort of tautological reasoning
carries over to social criticism as well, in that once capitalism is seen at a universal level,
then any problems associated with its real history can only be understood as the result of
human error, bad policies, malfeasance, frailty, vainglory, and so on anything, but that
such problems might extend from the logic of the system itself.
Finally, Marxs concern with incommensurability and tautology tell us something
about this approach to the labour theory of value. For Marx, labour creates value, but is
not itself value. It becomes value only in its congealed state, when embodied in the form
of some object (Marx 1992b: 57). While this is no place to argue for or against Marxs
ultimate conclusions about labour and value, what is important to note is that his
approach avoids tautological reasoning. Why is this? Many other value theories of his
period found values source in land, money, investment, gold, or some other expression
of values circulation and, as result, ultimately argue that value is the product of value.
Marxs approach, at the very least, avoids circular argumentation and finds values source
in some other place; that is, in labour.

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Apropos his philosophy of internal relations, the categories of Marxs critiques also
find instances where they share in and inform each others meaning. Incommensurability
and false universalisation together provide one such instance that too reveals the internal
relation between Marxs scientific criticism and political critique.

Incommensurability and false universalisation: Money, religion,

and the state
Small tribes may engage in the potlatch and exchange gifts (tools, food, cattle, and so
on), which allows them to (1) acquire things they otherwise do not have, and (2) cement
ties with potential allies. Pastoral societies might use cattle or some other exchangevalue resource (or even tokens) as a medium of trade. In mass agriculture (such as
Rome, feudal Europe), though barter might occur, metallic coins developed as an
exchange-form along with the use of cattle or other products as tribute. Capitalist societys money-form is detached from the value of precious metal as a general rule (although
gold, silver, etc. still retain high exchange-value, they no longer function as generally
used mediums for money), and rests on symbolic mediums such as paper money, bonds,
and even digital accounts. While the function across all of these systems is exchange,
other functions disappear over time we do not create political bonds with the cashier
at the department store while new functions emerge: production in capitalism rests
on accumulating money via the search for profits. As a result, the form and function of
money today are not transferrable backward with conceptual commensurability; that is,
people do not do what they do in the earliest systems in order to accumulate capital in
a calculative manner as the basis of a productive systems activity.
The issue here is that we often hear that money is some sort of universal reality, a
claim that rests on an error of incommensurability. Though we see an exchange function
that appears common to many social systems, it is a historical and logical error to equate
all exchange-forms as equal representatives of money, an argument Marx makes in his
introduction to the Grundrisse. Money as a concept emerges only over time as its conditions of possibility develop, mature, and crystalise into a more mature form, at which
time we can construct a concept upon it. However, it is an error to read this concept of
money backward into all historical formations with which it might share some characteristics (keeping in mind the dialectical category of identity/difference). All exchangeforms now misleadingly appear as money-forms, and our money today takes on an
appearance as the product of a social universal. In other words, any society must use
money and, by implication, organise itself around accumulating it. The ideological function here is the view that capitalism provides us the necessary requisites for any and all
forms of social order, and that we have no choice but to live with it as it aligns with
universal sociological necessities.
Religion is similar to money in these regards. Should we assume that religion as
observed today can be accounted for by tracing its institutional development backward
toward its earliest and most rudimentary forms and uncovering its supposed universal
functions in this way, we set ourselves up for a teleological argument rooted in incommensurability and false universalisation. This view assumes not only that the social functions

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Capital & Class 39(1)

religion, in its earliest expressions, was said to serve are the reasons for its emergence long
ago, but also that these functions explain why religion is still a societal requirement. This
teleological fallacy posits a universality that not only serves as apologia for religion in general, but it is also rooted in a false reading of both history and the way the institutional
present came to be.
Though the origins of none-too-few religious practices still existing today predate
modernity, it is the modern world that produced religion as a separate and identifiable
institution as we know it. In The Holy Family, Marx and Engels explain:
As industrial activity is not abolished by the abolition of the privileges of the trades, guilds and
corporations, but, on the contrary, real industry begins only after the abolition of these privileges
so religion develops in its practical universality only where there is no privileged religion (cf.
the North American States). The [modern] state declares that religion, like the other elements
of civil life, only begins to exist in its full scope when the state declares it to be non-political and
thus leaves it to itself. To the dissolution of the political existence of these elements, for example,
the dissolution of property by the abolition of the property qualification for electors, the
dissolution of religion by the abolition of the state church, to this very proclamation of their civil
death corresponds their most vigorous life, which henceforth obeys its own laws undisturbed
and develops to its full scope. (Marx and Engels 1956: 156158; emphases in the original)

In the past, what we recognise as religious ritual overlapped so considerably with

birthing, dying, planting, governance, daily activity, and so on, that it would be difficult
to discern where everyday activity began and religion ended. Further, it tended to be
state endorsed, an extension of governing power, something not separate from it but
integral to it. But with the rise of modernity, the separation of religion from all profane
content makes it abstract, absolute religion (Marx and Engels 1956: 130; emphasis in the
original). Secularisation in modernity untied religion from other social and state relations and provided it an independent existence, and this created the material possibilities
for religion as a concept and social institution. Just as with money, religion is in fact
a new social relation rather than an old or timeless one. Seeing all ritualistic-spiritual
behaviour as being representative of religion as a universal practice is misleading; or,
even worse, it reifies religion as a transhistorical social fact and this augments and
enhances the power of religious leaders over individuals and segments of society with a
gloss of respectability and necessity. Many social scientists often play along with this
deeply illogical and ideological state of affairs.
In modern society, a whole host of fallacious explanations that are not rooted in
historical and materialist realities are available to be used to account for institutionalised
social practices: god, human nature, genes, the prerequisites of society (the latter two
not always false, though these are always empirical questions; see Levins and Lowentin
1985). Like money and religion, the state is often something seen as an inevitable and
necessary institutionalised social relation. And the method of positing its universality is
also similar: start with the modern state as given, look backward for other forms of
allocating authority, decision-making, and warcraft, and declare the state as a social
universal. And, again, the issue is whether the concept of the state can be commensurably applied both backward and then forward with the same efficacy. Marx argues,
The abstraction of the state as such belongs only to modern times, because the

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abstraction of private life belongs only to modern times. The abstraction of the political
state is a modern product (Marx 1975a: 32). In assuming that the concept and the
reality of the state applies both backward and forward in the time with the same commensurability, we limit what we can do and say about the reality of states and their
necessity (today and tomorrow), and these limits often implicitly and even sometimes
explicitly smuggle in the assumption that a state is something we must have both in
our society, and in any other one we might try to build in the future. The political bias
is built right into that is, internally related to such malformed conceptual frameworks. Bad scientific thinking cannot but lead to bad political theory, and to ineffectual
and/or even dangerous political action.

Marx wants us to understand that the problem is greater than simply malformed concepts, and that instead, a failure to practice sound science can lead to political biases in
knowledge forms, which can hamper progressive action in the world. Also, these political
biases often endorse and defend the ruling relations of the modern world in unacknowledged ways. Marx, interestingly, is not arguing for a value-free form of discourse. He
does, however, clearly endorse a scientific investigation that is undertaken as impartially
as possible (Marx 1992c*: 27). Still, he is not writing from the same point of view as
bourgeois scientists, who might examine capital while attempting to present their work
as neutral. Marx is clearly interested in the problematic features of capitalism as system,
which he can glean from its real empirical results. His approach is a critique of competing theories and a careful analysis of the facts on the ground and in the historical record.
Marx presents a critique of a theory or a practice. He looks for the inner logic of either
the theory or the systemic relations that account for a practice. After analysing these indepth via scientific principles, he lays the essential inner-logic before his reader. In terms
of theories or policies, he may then apply his evaluation of them as false, signs of vanity,
cowardly or cruel practices, hypocrisy, and so on. In terms of the logic of the system,
once he has located its core structural features, he is not hesitant to speak of its satanic
mills, capitals orgies, or the bourgeoisies avariciousness but these are descriptions of
effects, not statements about causes. In Marxs view, it is only ideological opinion that
does not want to be offended, contradicted, or have to face its limitations and inconsistencies. Scientific objectivity does not translate into neutral and neutered analysis for
Marx. His approach brings him to certain conclusions: for instance, that of how capitalisms class relations account for various practices in the modern world; as well as political
conclusions such as why the solution to many social problems lies in transcending capitals dominance.
In political discourse, rooted in debates over how we should build a world and live in
it, one common theme relates to what the limits and necessities of human existence are.
One strand in this discourse is that human nature limits what we can and/or should do
in the world, where breaching human natures limits only brings disaster. In another
strand, human nature and the basics of building and sustaining any society necessitates
the things we have no choice but to build and sustain, now and tomorrow. In both cases,
those in the debate may point to certain practices over history and across various societies

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Capital & Class 39(1)

to pinpoint these limits and necessities. A common conclusion thus reached is that those
practices that appear to exist for all time and across space, or those that have repeatedly
failed, provide us evidence of our necessities and limits. The problem, however, is that
this is often only that: an appearance, produced by the way abstractions have formerly
been carved and used abstractions often forged by the very institutional framework the
abstractions are built upon and mobilised to support. Though he does not deny that
there are some human limits and social necessities, Marx asks us to approach such questions from a very different point of view, and this view allows scientific thinking to reveal
the political biases in many well-accepted and widely-supported modes of thought.
Solving our social problems is anywhere from difficult to impossible if we act on bad
ideas and information. If power relations classes, capital in general, the state, religion,
etc. distort our grasp of our conditions of existence, then it is the task of science to critically analyse those very relations so that we might build sound knowledge upon which
to act. Capitals defenders Smithians, conservatives, Friedmanites, libertarians, and so
on often present their defence in moral terms based on gods order, human nature,
genes, the best of all possible worlds (etc.), which explains why Marx compares the idealmaterial relations in capitalism to a fetish that has its analogous expression in the mistenveloped regions of the religious world (Marx 1992b: 77). With his goal being a
de-mystification of bourgeois knowledge, Marxs science is a very political one indeed.
This passage above on commodity fetishism is striking for many reasons, only one of
which will be addressed here. This passage conjures up images of some early society that
believes throwing a virgin into the volcano will appease the gods, make crops grow, bring
rains, and so on.5 Should an anthropologist explain to them the problems associated with
their behavior, even regardless of moral considerations that they are creating a sex
imbalance; that future generations will shrink; there will be a labour/population shortage, and so on it would be easy to imagine such a peoples response: Thats crazy
weve always done this; or, These are the orders of the gods; Theres no other way, and
so on. For the outsider, the ideological blinders and the impending social catastrophe are
obvious. In modern society, the circuit of capital (M-C-MM-C-M, and so on) is the
volcano into which we make sacrifices for our god capital. Minds, bodies, resources,
blood, sweat, tears, and nature itself are all sacrificed at its altar, and the powers that be
instill in us that it is good and there is no other way.
Marxs analytical approach to studying capitalism left him with a novel political conclusion: that capital and the modernity it forges into being provides those living under it
an opportunity to develop and exercise opportunities for freedom and creativity unknown
in past systems. This means that, as a system, capitalism gives humans a chance to overcome its own hurdles, problems, and limitations. Further, it does this in a way that can
give people the ability to shape and control the social relations that have hitherto controlled them. Thus, unlike any other system, capitalism should we take its benefits and
then leave the system behind sets the table to allow us to make our own history and in
the way we choose. Prior systems so dominated individuality, both mentally and physically, that actively and consciously seeing beyond and building upon them was a virtual
impossibility, or at least highly unlikely outside exceptional individuals. Capitalist society, fraught with contradictions and endemic dynamism and change, makes it possible
to shake loose the mental shackles of our imagination that living in any other type of

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society makes the rule rather than the exception. As a result, capitalism reverses the historical norm of society dominating and overwhelming individuality, agency, and freedom, even if it often undermines and negates these real potentials and possibilities.
These observations lend additional insight into the internal relations between Marxs
science and his politics. Marxs scientific dialectics warns us that our world presents to us
a vision and understanding of it that is inverted, backward, upside-down. His critical
approach is to unwind this distorting influence and to reveal to us the origins, structure,
maturation, and eventual demise of the capitalist system. Enveloped in such a system
and with such an understanding of it, we become capable of being agents and acting
upon such knowledge. One central piece of such knowledge is that capitalism produces
a world that hands human beings the possibility of creating a new society in which state
power and the class system upon which it rests can be swept away. That is, Marxs communist programme is a re-inverting political project, just as his approach to the method
of critique and research are a re-inverting analytical project. It is in this way that we
should understand the interconnection, the internal relation, between Marxs science, his
method of critique, and the political positions to which these direct us.
This article comes from two interrelated sources. First, it recaps remarks delivered at the Marxism
and the Philosophy of Internal Relations Symposium (May 10, 2012), a mini-conference in
advance of the Historical Materialism Conference (May 11-13, 2012) at York University, Toronto,
Canada. Second, the contents herein contain ideas pulled from Marx and the Politics of Abstraction
(2011, Brill).

1. Why these categories? Were they chosen at random? Should one carefully examine the
many instances of the criticisms Marx unleashes on other authors and thinkers, one will
find that these categories consistently make their appearance. However, this list is in no way
exhaustive. In order to provide some concision and focus, several categories are omitted from
this discussion, including speculative philosophy, a priori conceptualisation, teleology, and
2. Marx and Engels (1956: 1067) write, For Herr Bauer as for Hegel, truth is an automaton
that proves itself. Man must follow it. As in Hegel, the result of real development is nothing
but the truth proven, i.e., brought to consciousness. Just as according to old teleologists
plants exist to be eaten by animals and animals by men, history exists in order to serve as the
act of consumption of theoretical eatingproving. Man exists so that history may exist and
history exists so that the proof of truths may exist. [Thus, in the Hegelian philosophy,] history, like truth, becomes a person apart, a metaphysical subject of which real human individuals are but the bearers (emphases in the original).
3. A cursory investigation of the top journals in US sociology (for example, American
Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces) will find very few mentions
or investigation of capital and/or capitalism as realities requiring their own form of analysis
(see Paolucci, 2011: 7, n. 6).
4. Marx (1973: 83) thus criticises Smith and Ricardo because, for them, this eighteenthcentury individual the product on one side of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century

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Capital & Class 39(1)

appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past. Not as historic result but as
historys point of departure.
The reader is advised that liberties are being taken here with anthropological knowledge and
history. That is, it is less important here whether or not virgins were ever thrown into a
volcano in any actual society. Rather, given the acknowledgement that some cultures have in
fact committed human sacrifice, the virgins in volcanoes trope here is used as an illustrative
metaphor and/or rhetorical flourish based on some recognition of the reality of such human
sacrifices and their logic and illogic (as the case may be).

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Author biography
Paul Paolucci is a professor of sociology at Eastern Kentucky Universitys Department of
Anthropology, Sociology, and Social Work. His research interests and publication record include
work on dialectics, political economics and the philosophy of science, as well as studies in mass
media, US foreign policy, and modern culture.

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