Praxis and Historical Materialism: Second part from Fellini
fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu
fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu
Wed Apr 12 15:37:11 MDT 1995
If we believe that the notion of praxis and therefore
understanding the real human existence is a solid starting point,
then I think we should regard the historically specific and hence
transient character of human societies. In other words, one of
the most essential claims in Marx is that there is no general
theory that applies to all societies. In this regard, Marx's
project, from the very beginning, I would argue, is to understand
capitalism as a historically specific and peculiar mode of
production/social formation, which is characterized by labor
power's being a commodity, and therefore, capitalism is to be
understood in terms of commodity fetishism.
But if such a reasoning is correct, then it would have two implications:
First, the "base-superstructure" thing should not be taken
as a _causal_ framework that can explain every societies; rather
it should be taken as a general framework which only asserts
that, in order to survive, human beings should enter into an
interaction with nature, interactions which also refer to social
relations between humans within society.
For Marx, the labor process as a purposeful activity aimed at the
production of use-values is an appropriation of nature for the
requirements of man. It is the universal condition for the
interaction between man and nature, and therefore it is
independent of every form of human existence; that is, it is
common to all forms of society. Under capitalism, the general
character of the labor process is not changed by the fact that
the worker works for the capitalist instead of for himself.
However, the labor process in capitalism has two characteristics.
First, the worker works under the control of the capitalist to
whom its labor belongs, and second, the product is the property
of the capitalist and not that of the worker, its immediate
producer. Therefore, the labor process is a process between
things the capitalist has purchased, things which belong to him.
(Marx Capital, Penguin edition; pp. 290-91)
If this is the idea of "historical materialism" (first, social
character of the interaction with nature and second its
historically specific form) then, it is not very helpful to
generalize the base-superstructure "dialectic" to every social
On the other hand, second, under capitalism, just because of
commodity fetishism, it appears to us the category of "economic"
(loosely defined as roughly corresponding to the "base") dominates
over other social relations (political, kinship etc., or the
superstructure in general).
So, I don't know Ralph, how these conclusions (or starting points
?) correspond to D. Sayer's conception, but I think there are
similarities between them; unfortunately I have not read Sayer's
book; if you have any comment, I would be grateful.
However, I am still not sure if your "sunshine", Sayer, is quite
distant from Bhaskar; I agree with Howie, for I have come to
these conclusions from my reading of Bhaskar (especially his
TMSA), Giddens, and Karl Polanyi, besides Marx. Of course, I
might be wrong.
Further, I cannot agree with Hans (Despain) on his distinction
between _German Ideology_ and _Capital_ , and especially on his
claim that in _Capital_ commodity fetishism is presented in
"almost ahistorical" way; on the contrary, Marx always emphasizes
commodity fetishism as specific to capitalism.
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