Utopianism v. Radical Democracy

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Tue Jun 13 06:48:50 MDT 1995

I am somewhat puzzled by Leo's remark that Marx's theory of commodity
fetishism (which he rightly identifies as central to Capital) conflicys
with his historical materialist account of history as made by human agents
(if not just as they please). After all, one way to read a main point of
the CF section is that value is a human relation, made by market agents in
exchange relations, contrary to the way it appears, and mist appear, to
those agents, as something natural and beyond human powers to affect and
control. Of course Marx also thinks that as long asa market, and
specifically capitalist, relations of production remain, market forces
will operate as an objective power over humans caught up in those
relations--the agents will have to buy low and sell high, strive to reduce
their costs to the socially necessary minimum, and strive to reduce that
minimum, or face bankruptcy. But two things here:

a. Isn't that true? Anf why does its truth deny that we are suvjects as
well as objects? After all, it is our own intentional action which
produces the market agents to which we are subject. That's part of Marx's
point. Failure to see this is fetishism!

b. Marx insistsm also rightly, that this objective requirememnt is
historically conditioned, not universal, that it holds only in market
relations, which are not universal and unavoidable. (I'm speaking here of
the contrast of market society with precapitalist society--we can hold the
question of the possiubility of nonmarket socialism (about which I'm
skeptical). And the changes from one mode of production to another are
themselves produced by human action, specifically, revolutionary action.

So I think the theory of CF is a way of saying rather than denying that we
make our own history, but not just as we choose.

Geras slams Laclau and Mouffe for setting up straw man caricatures of Marx
and Marxists, accusing them (M & the ists) of extreme, vulgar economic
reductionism, and then of inconsistency whenever M & the ists deny this
implausible position. I think Leo does the same thing in positing that the
key to Marx is the chiliatstic transcendence of an absolute subject-object
division which turns people into mere traeger, bearers of class relations,
in capitalism. In fact the "traeger" passage in the forward to C1 is
clearly intended, in context, to explain that Marx is uninterested in the
moral evaluation of the charcter of individual capitalists, and nothing
more. He's quite interested in human, specifically working class action in
C1 and elsewhere--in C1, consider the chapter of the Struggle for the
Determnination of the Length of the Working Day.

In general I think that Marxism has to be viewed as a bundke of theories
are perspectives (not all obviousky wholly consistent) which cannot be
appraised on a single dimension--subject-object dualism, economic
reductionism, etc.--and held to stand or fall with that. Its overall
credibility depends on the fruitfulness and power of enough of the
theories, research programs, practical suggestions, etc. which it
encompasses, and not on the standing of any one of them. Thus I
(notoriously on this list) reject quantitative value theory and am deeply
skeptical of nonmarket socialism, but think that enough of Marxism stands
without that to justify our saying that Marxism is alive.

At the same time
I acknowledge that there's no intellectual requirement to be a Marxist--I
know a lot of people who believe more or less what I do and don't consider
themselves Marxists. We Marxists can accept that and say that for our
purposes people like that (e.g., Liz Anderson, phil at Mochigan, author of
Value in Ethics and Economics) as as good as Marxists for our purposes and
there's no point fighting over labels. But post-Marxists who reject
Marxism for some reason need better reasons than Leo or Laclau and Mouffe
have presented.

I want to thank Leo for suggesting a take on a paper I'm writing on CF.

--Justin Schwartz

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