[Marxism] Verso blog on Taylor critique of Chibber

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 6 12:19:27 MDT 2013

> In other words, it's Taylor who's the lazy reader here.

Yes, you are right. She does support Chibber.

At any rate, I encourage all subscribers to read his Jacobin interview 
as well as Taylor's critique. I should make the point once again that I 
found Taylor's critique lacking. For example, Taylor wrote:

According to Marx, the simple articulation of a society to a capitalist 
market does not immediately yield “abstract labor” as its social 
precipitate. In what is now the appendix to volume 1 of Capital, Marx 
distinguishes between the “formal” and the “real” subsumption of 
societies into capital. In conditions of formal subsumption, “capital 
subsumes the labor process as it finds it, that is to say, it takes over 
an existing labor process, developed by different and more archaic modes 
of production” (1021). In conditions of real subsumption, capital 
backforms the labor process, taking over it directly. Formally subsumed 
societies produce capital for capital, but capital has not reconstituted 
the entirety of the social. Rather, capital gloms onto given forms of 
production and simply extracts surplus: formally subsumed societies 
produce absolute surplus value, not relative surplus value. Chibber is 
aware of this distinction, sort of; he marks the fact that in the 
formally-subsumed “colonial world, “the reliance on producing absolute 
surplus” made capitalism “highly coercive and violent,” whereas “in the 
advanced world” [sic] the dominance of “relative surplus value caused a 
switch to less personalized” and less violent modes of value creation 
and extraction (113). Aware that capitalism maintains and (re)produces 
forms of production it finds to hand, Chibber critiques the 
subalternists for refusing to realize that capitalism does just that, 
suggesting that their anti-Marxism derives from their assumption that 
capitalism only takes the form it takes in societies where relative 
surplus production reigns. But he refuses to mark the gap between 
societies producing absolute and societies producing relative surplus 
value as indexical of a fissure between formal and real subsumption.


Something else is needed but I lack the motivation to read Chibber's 
book. I will say one thing, however. This business about defending 
Enlightenment values against postmodernism is the sort of thing I hear 
20 years ago when postmodernism was much more influential than it is today.

This is something I wrote back then, a report on a talk my old friend, 
the late Guy Robinson:

Marxism and the Enlightenment

A couple of months ago I attended a talk at NYC's Brecht Forum on 
"Philosophy and Marxism" which is relevant to this discussion. The 
speaker was Guy Robinson, who taught philosophy in British universities 
for 25 years. He retired in 1982 and moved to Nicaragua where he worked 
with construction brigades. He now lived in Dublin and his new book 
"Philosophy and Mystification" had just been published by Routledge.

Robinson's main point was that modern philosophy evolved in order to 
meet the needs of the rising bourgeoisie. It aspires to be universal but 
conceals the very particular and historical needs of the class which was 
coming to power in the age of Descartes. One of the purposes of Marxism 
is to make this connection and expose the class bias of bourgeois 

One of the schools of thought that Marxism vies with in this project is 
post-structuralism or postmodernism. The pomos are also interested in 
showing that the claims of universality are specious. Robinson described 
the pomos in pithy terms, as "hunters of zeitgeists," who try to capture 
historical trends as if they were animal specimens to pin on the wall 
like trophies. In the process of debunking "universality," the pomos 
also trash history. This is where Marxists and pomos part company, as 
well as on the issue of class.

Marxism has an entirely different agenda. Robinson says that a plain way 
of describing its mission is to clarify things that we already know. 
Marx's description of this project is found in the preface to the German 

"Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions 
about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They 
have arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of 
normal man, etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their 
hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations. Let 
us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings 
under the yoke of which they are pining away. Let us revolt against the 
rule of thoughts. Let us teach men, says one, to exchange these 
imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says 
the second, to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, to 
knock them out of their heads; and - existing reality will collapse."

Robinson gave an example of the clarifying function of Marxism. He said 
that the term "Artificial Intelligence" is a bourgeois mystification. It 
presumes that there is some sort of distinction between machines and 
intelligence, when in reality all machines exhibit some sort of 
intelligence. The source of it is the human labor which invests 
intelligence in the artifact to begin with. Positing some sort of 
duality between machine and intelligence is only possible in a society 
where a deep state of alienation exists between labor and the products 
of our labor.

Robinson then proceeded to knock bourgeois philosophy off its pedestal. 
Its whole purpose was to sanctify private property and the pursuit of 
profit. In order to do this, it was necessary to conduct ideological 
warfare against the feudal world view. John Locke's philosophy revolved 
around this project, especially in its promotion of the idea of the 
"social contract." Against the arbitrary rules of a Church-run society, 
the bourgeoisie needed rationality and individual rights. Without 
rationality and individual rights, capitalist property relations could 
not be safeguarded.

In order to diminish the role of the Church and the feudal aristocracy, 
a totally new view of the universe had to be constructed. Instrumental 
to this was a new view of nature, which was seen as transcendent and 
outside of humanity, but not sacred. Scientists would replace priests in 
this new world-view, since they alone had the ability to explain the 
natural order. Newton becomes a key figure in the general assault on the 
old order.

If nature is conscripted on behalf of the rising bourgeoisie, the 
natural tendency is toward what Robinson calls bourgeois materialism. 
Against this generally progressive philosophical current, he posits 
historical materialism. The difference between bourgeois and historical 
materialism is that the latter mode of thought does not see nature as 
transcendent but as something that society interacts with dialectically. 
Nature is always being transformed through labor. Furthermore, science 
in bourgeois society is always qualified by its social role, as Thomas 
Kuhn argues. The purpose of socialism is to liberate science from its 
class ties and make it available for the transformation of society.

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