determination

Kenny Mostern kennym at uclink2.berkeley.edu
Tue Mar 14 10:09:40 MST 1995


Howie Chodos has many useful questions about the concept of
"determination" in marxism in his recent post, and I hope we can have a
long conversation about this.  I agree that that the statement "social
being determines consciousness", as a formula, is problematic without
further elaboration; I also beleive it is pretty much true.  For me, the
elaboration of this concept tends to come from two sources, one marxist,
one nonmarxist but I think highly compatible with marxist thinking.  I
don't have the time to type in significant amounts of either right now.
But I'd be interested in working through the chapter "Determination" in
Raymond Williams' *Marxism and Literature* (which really should have been
called *Marxism and Culture*, so those not interested in literary studies
would read it--its really quite an original work of marxist theory; only
the last one-third is about literature at all) and the chapter
"Structures and the Habitus" in Pierre Bourdieu's *Outline of a Theory of
Practice*.

Williams states that "A Marxism without some concept of determination is
in effect worthless.  A marxism with many of the concepts of
determination it has now is quite radically disabled."  His primary
concern is to understand how one can speak of materials conditions, or
"objective social location" (Satya Mohanty's term) as locating
consciousness without falling into a determinism that is both wrong and
makes revolutionary struggle essentially impossible.  Williams goes on to
argue that a full concept of determination in this context would require
the joint notions "the setting of limits" (which is traditional to
economistic marxism) and "the exertion of pressures", which provides the
opportunity for "given social modes" to "effect a compulsion to act in
ways that maintain and renew it".  He then states:

"'Society' is then never only the 'dead husk' which limits social and
individual fulfillment.  It is always also a constituve process with very
powerful pressure which are both expressed in political, economic and
cultural formations and, to take the full weight of 'constitutive', are
internalized and become 'individual wills'.  Determination of this whole
kind--a complex and interrelated process of limits and pressures--is in
the whole social process itself and nowhere else:  not in an abstracted
'mode of production' not in an abstracted 'psychology'."

[My own rereading of this last sentence would be to formulate the marxist
social scientific process a different way:  to understand that the "mode
of production", to truly describe the totality we live in in the U.S., can
not
merely be called "capitalism" but must be given a name something like
"white supremacist patriarchal captialism".]

To read Stalin, and the formations in which revolutionary governments
generally work, through a notion of determination like this would be to
begin to ask how the party form, the identity as a revolutionary,
determines the identities of the actors within the revolution, and exerts
pressures which, quite apart from the economic limits (which are already
there) on Stalinist action, lead to forms of paranoia, cult of
personality, bureaucracy, and the perpetual reproduction of the party.
All of which are issues *entirely separate* from the actual content of
Stalinist theory, which might after all be good for what it addresses.

These issues have, of course, been addressed well by a variety of
Frankfurt school theorists; as for the significance of this sort of
argument to any contemporary revolutionary movement, I think we'd want to
be looking at Fanon and a variety of Pan-Africanist theory.

In extreme brief, the Bourdieu text I mention describes the "habitus", or
what I translate as "inhabited social space" of the individual as "an
acquired system of generative schemes objectively adjusted to the
particular conditions in which it is constituted"; it therefore
"engenders all the thoughts, all the perceptions, and all the actions
consistent with those conditions, and no others."  Bourdieu's attempt to
get us out of the paradox of "freedom" and "determinism" is provides a
detailed description of "the setting of limits" and also the mechanisms
with which dispositions are generated through unconsious imitation, etc.,
which provide the sense of choice even when people do exactly what
everyone around them does.  However, because these choices are really not
compelled, the limits are also only tendencies, and provide their own
sets of heterodox behaviors which, in a sense, compliment the more common
choices.

I hope this stuff makes some sense.  It was typed too quickly.  At some
point--but not this year--I'll write a formal paper on determination.

Your ideas abd suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Kenny Mostern
UC-Berkeley Ethnic Studies Graduate Group

Against:  racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism
For:  the truth--and the funk!



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