Historical Materialism FAQ

Carrol Cox cbcox at SPAMilstu.edu
Tue Dec 7 17:27:33 MST 1999





Sam Pawlett wrote:

>    Thus humans are producers and their production consists of two
> distinct aspects, the material and the social. The material is as we
> have seen the production of the physical necessities of life.

No, this is in fact one of the most common and most serious
misunderstandings of historical materialism: the identification of
the *material* with the *physical*. Social relations are material,
and in the (perhaps unfortunate) terminology of base and
superstructure, the base consists of *social relations* (or
relations of production). What Sam offers here, which might
be called Physicalism, leads to a confusion between Marxian
political economy (which deals with the historical relations of
classes) and bourgeois economics, that pseudo-science of
prices and the allocation of scarce resources. What bourgeois
pseudo-science sees as "the economy" is a product of bourgeois
social relations. And the founding myth of bourgeois economics
is that this realm can be considered an autonomous realm with
its own internal "laws."

I notice that Sam has G.A. Cohen in his bibiliography. May I
suggest that Cohen's "productivist" concept of historical
materialism is profoundly destructive of Marxism.

Now note. As far as I can recall, my political positions and
Sams are closely allied, with no serious disagreements. Yet here
we have a major disagreement over the very foundations of
marxism. It should give one pause. It offers support to Lou's
position critique of the practice of most democratic centralist
parties in demanding unity of philosophical position. It also
suggests that perhaps Lou should be cautious in having a section
of the web page be a FAQ dealing with such basic issues.

Carrol











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