[Marxism] Troubled times

Nick Fredman srcsra at scu.edu.au
Mon Nov 20 19:07:09 MST 2006

I think Joaquin, like many before, is asking important questions but greatly
exaggerating the extent to which classical Marxism is inadequate in
addressing them, and also simplifying and confusing the question of
determination in Marxism.

From: "Joaquin Bustelo" <jbustelo at bellsouth.net>
Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2006 11:09:56 -0500

> I am saying that imperialist (national/racial) and gendered exploitation are
> much more central and fundamental in the workings of the system than Wage
> Labor and Capital, or Capital, or the Manifesto of the Communist Party say

But e.g. isn't there a whole big Marxist literature on unequal exchange
between nations? Maybe starting with Marx's 1857 Grundrisse:

> From the possibility that profit may be less than surplus value, hence that
> capital [may] exchange profitably without realizing itself in the strict
> sense, it follows that not only individual capitalists, but also nations may
> continually exchange with one another, may even continually repeat the
> exchange on an ever-expanding scale, without for that reason necessarily
> gaining in equal degrees. One of the nations may continually appropriate for
> itself a part of the surplus labour of the other, giving back nothing for it
> in the exchange, except that the measure here [is] not as in the exchange
> between capitalist and worker.


This seems to me a good example of how class interests are often mediated
through varied structures, material and/or ideological (and nations e.g. are
very much both), in often complex, but traceable ways. Emergent social
formations like capitalism as it developed of course take on, adapt, and to
some extent are changed by existing social relations such as those of
gender. Nations aren't quite the same thing, as nearly all the diverse
authoritative writers on the nations from the classical Marxist (Lenin,
Stalin, Trotsky), to heterodox or semi-Marxist (Eric Hobsbawm, Michel Lowy,
Benedict Anderson, Tom Nairn), to conservative (Ernest Gellner), agree that
nations are pretty much a product of capitalism, even if constructed from
pre-existing ethic-linguistic material and playing a central role after
their formation. 

In general Joaquin seems to be adopting the structuralist outlook of Louis
Althusser, in which the course of history is overdetermined, that is has
many separate determinations. This is outlined in his 1962 essay
'Contradiction and Overdetermination'
tm , and was the dominant paradigm in left academia, and currents like
Eurocommunism, in the 70s and 80s, but definitely still around.

While it may be neat and tidy to chop the world into separate
class/race/gender axes, and certainly necessary to take proper account of
the to some extent separate development of different structures, such an
approach can be both very reductionist and lacking in any sense of
determination. At the moment I'm looking various surveys which measure
attitudes to things like race, immigration, national identity in relation to
respondents' occupation, ethinicty etc, and the "analyses" of the
structuralist-minded academics doing these things are generally very
descriptive and reductionist, without a sense of theory of how things
change: all blue collar workers are like this, all "new class" professionals
like that, all migrants like something else, etc.

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