Marxism and political economy

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Thu Jun 1 14:45:39 MDT 1995

At 3:17 PM 6/1/95, glevy at wrote:

>Actually, I thought that Marxism was essentially a "world outlook" or
>philosophy with which one can analyze the social world.  Political
>economy is certainly a major part of Marx's thought, but, it is a
>specific extension of Marx's method of historical materialism.  Marxists
>have historically been very concerned with the arts, literature, science,
>etc. and have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to analyze
>these subjects from a materialist perspective.  Although I am a political
>economist by profession, I think that it is important for Marxists -- and
>this list -- to analyze subjects that are not directly related to
>political economy.
>I may be an economist, but I believe that viewing all subjects from a
>narrow economic perspective should be avoided (I assume Doug would
>agree). Indeed, neoclassical economists are the school of thought (a la
>Becker) who attempt to explain all social interaction in economic terms.

Of course one should avoid viewing all subjects from a narrow economic
perspective. But I think that an analysis can't be "Marxist" or even
"Marxish" if it doesn't relate cultural and psychological phenonmena to
material reality and social relations, just as something can't be Freudian
if it doesn't relate to psychic drives, defense mechanisms, etc.

As the old man said at the end of the intro to the Grundrisse: "What chance
has Vulcan against Roberts & Co., Jupiter against the lightning-rod and
Hermes against the Credit Mobilier?" And a bit later, "But the difficulty
lies not in understanding that the Greek arts and epic are bound up with
certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that they still
afford us artistic pleasure and that in a certain respect they count as a
norm and as an unattainable model."

A Marxian lit crit would know how to parse a couplet, but would want to
investigate why the couplet was the characteristic form of 18C British
poetry; would know how to parse a sonnet, but might also wonder why almost
no sonnets were written in English between the death of Milton and the
advent of Wordsworth.



Doug Henwood
[dhenwood at]
Left Business Observer
250 W 85 St
New York NY 10024-3217
+1-212-874-4020 voice
+1-212-874-3137 fax

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