[Marxism] Petty-bourgeois--the importance of the issue

James Daly james.irldaly at ntlworld.com
Fri Aug 20 15:40:38 MDT 2004

When Jurriaan wrote

American socialists seek their main inspiration from a political movement a
hundred years ago, from a country where the majority of the people at that
time consisted of peasants who couldn't even read, rather than the most
advanced issues and methods in their own country or for that matter in the

I took it that he meant Russia -- and undoubtedly Marxists and
socialist-minded people have to take into account Plekhanov's (especially
Anglo-French, but also Dialectical Materialist) deformation of Marx, as well
as the fate of ex-tsarist Fortress USSR. But attributing the most advanced
thinking to imperialist society when it is rushing towards planetary
destruction is odd. I agree with Mark and Marx that socialism is necessary,
and that it will not be brought about except by the world working class.
However I think that the late Marx's interest in rural communism is an
important part of his thinking (cf Shanin, White).

I agree with Jurriaan that our thinking must be creative and truth oriented,
but I don't agree with what seems to be a distinction between value free
science and political ideology.

"Petty bourgeoisie" seems to me a perfect example of a term which in its
origin and essence transcends bourgeois sociology. The first sentence of the
manifesto points to history and class struggle. It does not refer to
"economics", things, evolution.

But class is discussed in bourgeois sociology in empiricist, classificatory
terms. I would ask Mark, is the term "petty bourgeois" allowed in bourgeois
sociology? With the means of direction, control and repression he has
described, does the intellectual structuration, which they serve to enforce,
rule out a Marxist concept of class?

The formula "there will be one science" is doubtless somewhat rhetorical
(though it may be that the specialisms counter-invoked by Jurriaan are
mostly alienated) but it points to a holistic understanding of the proper
object of the "social sciences" as the complex of structures of human
relations. There are no isolated social, political, or economic relations -- 
politics e.g. is about property laws, no exploitation without domination -- 
and the term "class" recognises this. There are also no such relations
without policing and military relations. As Clausewitz said, war is the
continuation of politics by other means -- and not only between states, as
he thought. But neither the study of classes, nor the struggle against
class, can be undertaken today except in the context of imperialist
relations, including war, between states.

Althusser, coming out of the fossilisation of Marxist theory (hard now to
remember!) with Chinese help ("put politics in command") caught a glimpse of
this in his concept of "over-determination", but that is still causal
determinism -- only not simply economic. And Althusser outlawed the
value-concept of alienation, which for Marx is implicit in class.

If one is looking for benchmark examples of value-laden and
practice-oriented science in the Marxist tradition, and some considerable
art or practical skill, I suggest that it is found on this list at its best.


James Daly

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