Analytical Marxism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Wed Apr 12 09:17:33 MDT 1995

Summary of Wright's What Is Analytical <MNarxism. con't.

3. Fine grained speficication and modelling.

AM typically use explicit formal models, sometimes game theoretic or in
the form of causal models. W dismisses the objection that this sort of
abstraction ignores complexity. Good models, he says, simplify in
illuminating ways and force us to be clear abour assumptions and
mechanisms. Anyway any explanatory claim presupposes an implicit model, a
picture of how things work. Cohen's (in?)famous account of hgistorical
materialism forces us to show what the elements of a theory of historical
cxhange are and determine whether they are consistent. If we don't like
the theory, it's at least clear and precise enough so we can see what
about it we don't like.

4. Intentional action.

Some AM use rational choice models, e.g., game theoretic ones (like
Elster) or neoclassical ones (like Roemer). In addition some of them are
committed to methodological individualism, the idea that social phenomena
can and should be explained in individualkistic terms, of which RCT is an

W says that AM is not necessarily methodologically individuaalist or
committed to RCT. Rtaher the real point these commitments are ways of
embodying concerns the importance of conscious choice in setting out the
micro-foundations of our explanations. The thing is to specify the
mechanisms in detail, not to leave matters in terms of unexplained general
tendencies. RCT is one waay of doing this. The AM who use RCT differ from
neoclassical economists and political scienmtists who also do in asking
different questions and making difference assumptions in their models.

W e,phasizes that some AM, like Cohen, also use functional explantion or
subimntentional cognitive psychology, like Elster; others, like Brenner,
use structurala nd institutional explanations.

What is Marxist About AM?

1. AM is rooted in Marxism as a tradition--the typical apprtoach is to
take some Marxist question or argument and reconstruct it using the tools
mentioned above.

2. AM is committed to Marxist questions and socialist politics, even where
its answers to these questions differ from classical Marxism. So AM talk
about the transition to capitalusm, the conditions for socialist
revolution, the nature of exploitation, etc.

3. AM uses language arising from Marxism--its conceptual repetoire
includes notions like ideology, exploitation, class, class consciousness, etc.

4. AM are committed to values of freedom, equality, and human dignity
springing from the core normative orientation of Marxism, though perhaps
shared by post-Matxists, non-Marxist socialists, and left-liberals.

W gives two reasons why Marxism remains an essential theoretical framework
for radical social analysis:

1. Marxist questions remain crucial to any project for radical change--AM
tend to think Marxism is not a universal theory of everything, but insofar
as socialism remains a goal and class is important in thinking about how
to get there, there's a role for Marxism.

W maintains, rather controversially I would say, that Marxism as such has
nothing disdtinctive to say about non-claass oppression, e.g., women's
oppression, although he thinks Marxists will of course care about these
things. It's true that AM in particular has been gender blind--though not
race-mind; Roemer has m,odels explaining why racist "divide and conquer"
strategies are good for business.

2. The Marxist framework of concepts and the answers to Marxist questions
have been shown on reconstruction and examination to have value--W gives a
number of examples.

W concludes by noting that while Marxism is in decline as a political
movement, AM has been gaining a place4 in the academy. He raises the
question of whetrhe the latter is progress or just careerism and
opportunism, and he notes the danger of diminishing our revolutionary
aspirations or cutting down our interests to those which tractable to the
chosen tools of AM. These things must be resisted, he says, but not at the
expense of giving up the project.

Thus Wright's account of AM--I hope this helps some of those who were
interested in what this is.

I do this stuffr because I was trained as an analytical philosopher, but
more deeply because I think the work exciting and interesting. I think
that theoretically Marxism has made more progress over the last 15 or so
years, since roughly the publication of Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of
History (1978) than at any time since the great effloursence of Marxism
around the turn of the last century. There have been dead ends and wrong
tracks, but that's the way thinking goes. Obviously there is a problem
abaout an acdemic Marxism cut off, as a movement, from working class
political struggle (even though many AM are personally involved in it),
but that's a fact about thew state of the working class strugvgle these
days more than about the AM professors. We can't create movements out of
the air. We're not sorcer's apprentices. Intellectually, though, the AM
work is very stimulating and exciting. People who object that it's not
accessible to workers ought to try _Capital_ on some workers they know.
We've talked about the role of intellectuals. Popularizaation has a place.
So does cutting edge research.

I lost the post, but I thought'd I'd say something to Ralph's remark that
Quine, the most influiential analytical philosopher around, is a
reactionarey, which he is. In the first place Quine has never written
about politics in a scholarly or popular way. His collected political
writings, as far as I know, are a puff for Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State,
and Utopia. But more deeply, Quine's basic insights spring from Marxism.
His own acknowledged chief influence is Otto Neurath, a Marxist logical
positivist (and early theorist of planning, by the way). Other important
APh, notably Wilfred Sellars (himself fairly left wing) were also
inspireed by Marxism--Sellars' first philosophical reading was Engels, and
it shows. Sellars has a striong Hegelian streak.

Marxism has a home in APh--not just AM, but a whole passel of APh are
Marxists working in mainstream moral theory and philosophy of science and
language: Michael Devitt, Richard Boyd, formerly Richard Miller, Peter
Railton, formerly Hilary Putnam, etc. This home is not comforatable or
happy and there is a lot of anti-radical prejudice among APh, reflecting
the state of society as a whole. I think that in part is why I was fired
and couldn't find another job in philosophy. But I don't think APh in
particular is to blame. Continental philosophy is hardly more progressive,
and CPh may hate Marxists worse than APh. APh do tend to be jerks as
people--I like National Lawyers Guild lawyers a lot more--but that's the
academy, not just APh.

Well, enough for now.

--Justin Schwartz

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