RICHARD GUNN VS HISTORICAL MATERIALISM (OPEN MARXISM V.2)

David McInerney davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au
Thu Nov 23 17:34:01 MST 1995


On Wednesday 22 November, Ralph Dumain provided us with a review of:

>OPEN MARXISM.  VOLUME TWO: THEORY AND PRACTICE, edited by Werner
>Bonefield, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis.  London: Pluto
>Press, 1992.  xviii, 172 pp.
>
>The premise of this book is most promising.  Some of the
>formulations of the introduction are pretentious, but its key
>virtue is to combat the dualism of class structure and struggle,
>between structuralism and voluntarism, between abstract laws and
>subjectivity.  Its most tantalizing promise comes in the
>reconsideration of theory and practice, which have hitherto been
>themselves treated dualistically in spite of proclamations of
>their unity.  There must be a practical reflexivity of theory and
>a theoretical reflexivity of practice coexisting in a single unity
>(p. xiv). Now let's look and see how well this promise is
>fulfilled.


Thanks Ralph, I found these  very interesting.

You are right that this series of books (there are three volumes, right?)
seems to promise a lot.  The contributions by Gunn and Negri seem
especially awful, at least by your description, with Gunn falling into a
pragmatism the likes of which have not been seen since Cutler et. al.
released their two volume _Marx's 'Capital' and Capitalism Today_ back in
1977-78; while Negri's contribution seems to be the sort of metaphysical
approach favoured by Laclau et. al. based on the oppositions
synchrony/diachrony, social/political, and, by extension, we could possibly
add that old favourite of Sociology 1 lecturers, structure/agency?  This
all seems like the sort of nauseating, pseudo Marxist bullshit served up by
the likes of Nicos Mouzelis (in his _Post-Marxist Alternatives_) in their
attempts to combine Marxism and bourgeois sociology.  It also reminds me of
the former incarnation of Cutler et. al. as the self-described
'Althusserian' editorial board of _Theoretical Practice_, who attempted to
combine a very structuralist reading of Althusser (their 'Generalities II')
with bourgeois sociology (their 'Generalities I') to produce a Marxist
structuralist sociology (their 'Generalities III'?) - only to later reject
their 'Generalities II' (their structuralist reading of Althusser, or more
accurately, their reading of Althusser through the most structuralist
aspects of the essays by the youthful Balibar and Ranciere) as 'Marxism'
and to proclaim themselves 'post-Marxist' ...  But I digress.

Ralph, what do you think of such attempts to read Marxism in a
structuralist manner and then, in a pragmatist - open - turn, either
advocate rejecting Marxism entirely or adopting a new, "open" version of
Marxism, something unrecognisable as Marxism?  Just how important is this
"dualism of class structure and struggle, between structuralism and
voluntarism, between abstract laws and subjectivity"?  Should we reject
posing problems this way, if Gunn et. al. and Cutler et. al. is where it
leads?

David.


P.S.  This is what Althusser had to say about his structuralist followers
in 'Elements of Self-Criticism', taking responsibility for this
"theoreticist deviation" himself:

'The (speculative) thesis of philosophy as "Theory of theoretical practice"
=8A represented the highest point of this theoreticist tendency.

Of course, this last thesis on philosophy was not without its secondar
effects on the Marxist conception of *science*, of historical materialism,
not so much because of the use to which I put the distinction (correct in
principle) between science and Marxist "philosophy" as because of the way
in which I treated this relation (philosophy being, ultimately, treated as
a theory like science, made of the same stuff, with the added capital
letter: Theory).  Very unfortunate consequences resulted as far as the
presentation of the *modality* of Marxist science, of Historical
Materialism, was concerned - especially in _Reading Capital_.

It was no doubt on this occassion that the accidental by-product of my
theoreticist tendency, the young put called structuralism, slipped between
by legs ...' (_Essays in Self-Criticism_, NLB, 1976, pp. 124-125)


On the structure/agency pseudo-problem, and on Marx's use of 'structure',
Althusser says:

'Marx constantly uses the concepts of position and function, and the
concept of *Trager* ("supports"), meaning a support of *relations*: but
this is not in order to make concrete realities disappear, to reduce real
men to pure functions of supports - it is in order to make mechanisms
intelligible by grasping them through their concept, and *beginning with
these* (since this is the only possible way) to make intelligible the
concrete realities which can only be grasped by making a *detour* through
abstraction.  But just because Marx uses the concepts of structure,
elements, point, function, *Trager*, realtions, determination by relations,
forms and transformed forms, displacement, tec., that does not make him a
structuralist, since he is not a *formalist*.' (ibid., pp. 129-130)


Mr. David McInerney,
Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences,
The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., AUSTRALIA  0200.
e-mail: davidmci at coombs.anu.edu.au; ph: (06) 249 2134; fax: (06) 249 3051




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