jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Sat Apr 8 04:43:27 MDT 1995

It's been a while since I have read Derek Sayer's very stimulating book
Violence of Abstraction.

While Daniel Little distinguishes between the theory of historical
materialism and the more specific critique of political economy embodied in
M's Capital in which Little finds careful attention to  the
microfoundations which analytical Marxists have prided themselves on
bringing to Marx, Sayer here challenges the dominant interpretations of
historical materialism, in particular "the guiding thread" of the 1859
intro and the basic concepts of the relations and forces of production.
Sayer's book is extremely valuable, another proof that we should not assume
that the ABC's of Marxism have been learned.

 One of Sayer's most provocative arguments is that G.A. Cohen's conception
of the forces of production is itself the result of the fetishism inherent
in commodity producing society. Sayer shows that Cohen ends up embodying
the very social powers of labor in things, what for Cohen become the forces
of production, so independent then of social labor  as to be conducive to
bourgeois apologetics.  Of course I am putting his argument crudely.

Sayer also discusses why, in certain formations,  forms of patriarchy could
emerge as relations of production, since "they are clearly social relations
in whose absence production of goods would not have taken the empirical
forms it did.  This is undoubtedly an advance on 'traditional historical

Ultimately one leaves Sayer's book convinced of the sterility of those
theories which have tried to provide a master-key to history on the basis
of concepts emptied of historicity.  One also leaves convinced that Marx
really meant it when he said that his aim was not to provide such a

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