Blaut’s Modes Debate PART 1

Greg Schofield gschofield at
Wed May 23 22:54:37 MDT 2001

Blaut's Modes Debate PART 1

In his article Blaut makes the worthwhile point that Marx just as everyone
at the time in Europe and especially Britain was imbued with the general
ideas of European progress and superiority. This may well be so, certainly
a lot of Marx's language can be seen in this way, in hindsight.

However, the question is whether Marx's method grew as a simple extension
of this, or was it was relatively immune from its effects?

The effect may be real enough but to what extent did it corrupt what has
been said? Bearing the times in mind it is easy enough to understand Marx's
meaning fairly well shorn of Victorianisms, at the most superficial level
this matters not at all, but Blaut's point is that it is much deeper than this.

Marx did not live outside his times, nor would he expect himself to be
above the all enveloping ideology in which he lived. The question is
whether his method was both critical and self-critical enough to emerge
from behind the veil of then contemporary half-truths? Blaut gives us no
reason to believe that he denies this, in fact his very form of argument
confirms such a belief.

Obviously ideology is less likely to emerge in Marx where he applies his
method fully and not just in passing on such superficial things that hardly
matter at all, or are easily amended. But Blaut directs us to heart of
Marx's enterprise, his historical conception of his subject matter. Again
this does automatically rule Blaut wrong, for it could be true and still
leave much of Marx intact and this is fairly obviously the context of the
criticism he is making.

While it would be easy to attack the Blaut on all types of grounds based on
this isolated article, none of this would matter unless his strongest
points are dealt with directly which is my intention. The center of Blaut's
critique is that Marx got his Modes of Production wrong, specifically the
sequencing and arrangement of them, that instead of a critical
self-criticism of ideas and developing them beyond their one-sided
ideological constraints, Marx instead followed ideological dictates and
reflected this in his Modes of Production schema.

I would take this to be the central and strongest criticism and therefore
the one which needs to be addressed first before anything else can be touched.

I would ask comrades who find my particular analysis falling short, to keep
this point in mind, this posting is not attempting to take advantage of
Blaut on some superficial matter but the critical one at the heart of the
viewpoint (as witnessed in the article alone) - to this end other things
need to be pushed aside and dealt with separately, both other useful
insights and errors being for this purpose discarded as secondary.

Blaut's point, about Marx's construction of his Mode of Production schema,
is short and sweet which is a virtue - basically he is simply saying that
Marx created the schema as a direct reflection of the dominant ideology of
the day.

Without splitting needless hairs and glossing over obvious differences let
me state that for the sake of argument I concede that there is a vary close
correspondence between the ideology of the period and Marx's schema. In
fact, again for the sake of argument, it might be a one-to-one
correspondence for all the difference it makes. However, things cannot stop
here of course.

Things may correspond, even exactly, but still not be the same. I will
spare the reader any roominations on how ideology might achieve this and
concentrate instead on the origin and placement of Marx's scheme within the
development of his theory - if the Marx's methodology in this meets with
approval the case should be proved as the schema should be seen as integral
to the whole and thus just as solid as any other part of his theory (ie
cannot be removed without doing damaged and thus does not function in an
ideological way, but in a necessary fashion).

Marx did not come up with the schema of Modes of Production all at once,
rather the development of them went hand in hand with his other explorations.

To begin with in the "Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts" mode of
production, mode of existence, mode of affirmation, mode of gratification,
mode of activity even mode of human existence are used as locational
aspects of material existence as counterpoised to idealised existence.

There is no schema of Modes of Production as a plurality is posited. Even
the "present" mode of production remains unnamed as Marx examines the
capital-labour and property relations. We might remain gratefully that Marx
soon dropped this multiplicity of "modes", but it all makes sense within
this early context.

This first use (it may not be the actual first time of use) of mode of
production is totally non-controversial, at this point the multiplicity of
Modes could have gone in any direction. However, this is the starting point
and needs to be understood for what it is.

No mention is made of Modes of anything until the third manuscript (that is
subtitled "Private Property and Labour"), there is a internal consistency
here because the previous parts of the manuscript look at the wage-labour
relation, profits, rent and property but not transition or change. In the
third manuscript where modes first appear it is linked by this historical
conception, this is not accidental and is the most obvious reason why Marx
kept one part, Modes of Production, and latter made it into a schema from
the beginning it was linked to the concept of change (past and future),
none of which is inconsistent with Blaut's thesis.

There is another aspect to this which I will return to, modes of production
is also strongly linked to property forms and the labour relation - ie the
mode of production is these two things linked together - it is this that is
the golden thread that runs through Marx's arrangement.

Next we have to dispose of the question of the level of abstraction
involved even at this early stage. Despite Marx's concentration on the
private property, wage, labour and capital, he could not be unaware that
other relations of production co-existed that could not be fitted into
these concerns. Already he was dealing with, if not the dominant relations,
then those relations that were coming into dominance - this of course is
nothing new or exception. He may well in these manuscripts have called
these other relations modes of production, indeed, at this stage of his
theoretical development I cannot see if the question was posed to him he
would not be amendable to the idea (this of course depends on how you read
the document).

In the German Ideology more "mode" aspects are added mode of co-operation
ect, in other words mode of production is being used just as general
category, a descriptive shorthand that betokens no schema of any real kind
just as in the earlier manuscripts.

In debating Proudhon in the Poverty of Philosophy  Mode of Production has
firmed up a little, there is not a the complete schema, but it stands now
in the text as an abstract concepts to those parts that relate to it, hence
feudalism is one Mode and capitalism another. The term has now graduated
into to full blown concept, it is the species concept for different types
of production, specifically the dominant type and thus is very different to
the meaning of the words in the earlier.

The point here is that there is no general concept of progress, the origin
of the idea being in counterpoising three simple relationships, the one
which proceeded, the one we are now in and the one that will follow. This
is no schema, but Blaut's point still remains, as the latter importation
may just be a reflection of general ideology. However, at this stage of
development this is completely out of place, as the now crystallizing term
is absolutely justified, in fact inescapable. Insofar as this remains so,
Blaut's point subsides, however it must be shown and not assumed (I
apologise for this overly lengthy posting and will continue in another to

Greg Schofield
1) Ellen Wood "Eurocentric Anti-Eurocentrism"
http// (EAE) - 2001
2) James Blaut "Marxism and Eurocentric Diffusionism"
http// (MED) - 1999
3) Greg Schofield "On the Vexed Question of Socialism"
http// (VQS) - 2001

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