Value, psychological and marxist

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Tue Jul 11 20:22:39 MDT 1995

On Wed, 12 Jul 1995 owner-marxism-digest at wrote:

> From: Seamus Malone <redye at>
> I think is is important from a Marxist perspective to understand the
> subject as a product of social relations.

But this can mean so many things, no?  It can also mean that we "make our
own history"--if not on terms that we ourselves choose.  The problem is
that of specifying more clearly the relation between social relations and
subjectivity (classically, between structure and agency in the
sociological tradition).  There is no one Marxist perspective on this, of

> One falls into a false
> consciousness/essentialism if one inverts this relation.

With the language of "inversion" it sounds like your dealing with some
kind of base/superstructure metaphor; even if not, it is as much your
apparent position as any other that has mobilized the idea of false
consciousness and been accused of essentialism (viz. Laclau and Mouffe on
this latter point).

> I suspect you
> may have done this without really taking much notice because it seems a
> simple relation of equality:: subjects constitute the social and the
> social is constituted by subjects.

I'm sure neither Chris nor anyone else would say this.  He might be
prepared to say that "subjects constitute the social and the social
constitutes subjects."  But I take it you are opposing this revised
formulation also.

> What is important it the question of
> production and the status of the subject or subjectivity. When viewed
> from this perspeictive, it is extreemly important to understand that the
> subject has no prior existence to its social location. This gives us an
> understanding of how the subject and the general "morphology" of
> subjectivity is part of a system of ideology which operates for the
> benefit of a ruling class, and an understand of the importance of
> communicative acts in relation to the maintenance of control of society
> on the lowest level subjective experience.

Of course I'd say yes to this first sentence, but then I'd start worrying
about the way in which you appear to efface precisely the question of
production.  Essentially the problem you face is that of accounting for
history and for change.  This is an old charge against structuralism
(and, I think, exceptionally valid with regard to Lacan, whom you were
using in an earlier post), but not, it seems, one you're making any
headway with--in my eyes, at least.  For neither "the subject" nor "its
social location" are unitary, and for any particular social location
there is a subjectivity that can be seen to precede it, although that
subjectivity may not be the same that which is currently in effect with
regard to the particular social location under consideration.  But some
form of causality must be assumed--and at present you seem to be positing
it all on a unitary Social that sounds all too much like a transcendent
Subject or Geist to me.

I like Bourdieu on this, by the way.

> Seamus Malone
> redye at

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at

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