[Marxism] Economics as a weak point

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Tue Nov 8 08:05:28 MST 2005

"M. Junaid Alam" wrote:
> I see and meet all kinds of
> people, very few of them fit into the stereotypical description of
> factory worker. 

Weberian sociology has triumphed even among many, perhaps most,
marxists. You are treating class here as a series of tin cans into which
one plunks various marbles depending on their description (color,
pattern, size, mass, etc.). But class is not a category of people; class
is a relation and process.

Class designatin tells you nothing whatever about the people so
described; rather it tells you about their situation in the whole
dynamic of the society.

Translate this into static terms and about 85% of the u.s. population
(perhaps even over 90%) are working class. What follows from this:
nothing except that you ought to stop trying to image what a worker
'looks like.' No image will cover the vast complexity of the presently
quite amorphous u.s. working class.

It is practice that determines which sectors of that huge working class
are or can be politically active under given conditions.

And even the use of the term "economics," rather than "political
economy," can be seriously misleading.

>From "Introduction: Commodity Fetishism," by Fedy Perlman:

According to economists whose theories currently prevail in America,
economics has replaced political economy, and economics deals with
scarcity, prices, and resource allocation. In the definition of Paul
Samuelson, "economics or political economy, as it used to be called . .
is the study of how men and society choose, with or without the use of
money, to employ scarce productive resources, which could have
alternative uses, to produce various commodities over time and
distribute them for consumption, now and in the future, among various
people and groups in society."1 According to Robert Campbell, "One of
the central preoccupations of economics has always been what determines
price."2 In the words of another expert, "Any community, the primers
tell us, has to deal with a pervasive economic problem: how to determine
the uses of available resources, including not only goods and services
that can be employed productively but also other scarce supplies."3

If economics is indeed merely a new name for political economy, and if
the subject matter which was once covered under the heading of political
economy is now covered by economics, then economics has replaced
political economy. However, if the subject matter of political economy
is not the same as that of economics, then the "replacement" of
political economy is actually an omission of a field of knowledge. If
economics answers different questions from those raised by political
economy, and if the omitted questions refer to the form and the quality
of human life within the dominant social-economic system, then this
omission can be called a "great evasion".4

The Soviet economic theorist and historian I.I. Rubin suggested a
definition of political economy which has nothing in common with the
definitions of economics quoted above. According to Rubin, "Political
economy deals with human working activity, not from the standpoint of
its technical methods and instruments of labor, but from the standpoint
of its social form. It deals with production relations which are
established among people in the process of production."5In terms of this
definition, political economy is not the study of prices or of scarce
resources; it is a study of social relations, a study of culture.
Political economy asks why the productive forces of society develop
within a particular social form, why the machine process unfolds within
the context of business enterprise, why industrialization takes the form
of capitalist development. Political economy asks how the working
activity of people is regulated in a specific, historical form of

Full at http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~rgibson/commodityfetishism.htm

Class analysis does not arise from the description of individuals and a
classification of those individuals according to that description;
rather, it is an abstraction from the dynamic of society as a whole. To
say that someone is working class says nothing about how he/she
personally lives but rather identifies his/her relation to capital.


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