Analytical Marxism is an approach to Marxist theory that was prominent amongst English-speaking philosophers and social scientists during the 1980s. It was mainly associated with the September Group of academics, so called because of their biennial September meetings to discuss common interests. Self-described as "Non-Bullshit Marxism", the group was characterized, in the words of David Miller, by "clear and rigorous thinking about questions that are usually blanketed by ideological fog." The most prominent members of the group were G. A. Cohen, John Roemer, Jon Elster, Adam Przeworski, Erik Olin Wright, Hillel Steiner, and Philippe van Parijs.
Members of this school seek to apply the techniques of analytic philosophy, along with tools of modern social science such as rational choice theory to the elucidation of the theories of Karl Marx and his successors. The best-known member of this school is Oxford University philosopher G.A. Cohen, whose Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (1978) helped start this school. In that book, Cohen attempted to apply the tools of logical and linguistic analysis to the elucidation and defense of Marx's materialist conception of history. Other prominent analytical Marxists include the economist John Roemer, the social scientist Jon Elster, and the sociologist Erik Olin Wright. They all have attempted to build upon Cohen's work by bringing to bear modern social science methods, such as rational choice theory, to supplement Cohen's use of analytic philosophical techniques in the interpretation of Marxian theory.
Cohen himself would later engage directly with Rawlsian political philosophy in attempt to advance a socialist theory of justice that stands in contrast to both traditional Marxism and the theories advanced by political philosophers such as the left-liberal John Rawls and the right-libertarianRobert Nozick. In particular, he points to Marx's maxim of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
Analytical Marxism is understood to have originated with the publication of G. A. Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (1978). Cohen's book was, from the outset, intended as a defence of historical materialism. Cohen painstakingly reconstructed historical materialism through a close reading of Marx's texts, with the aim of providing the most logically coherent and parsimonious account. For Cohen, Marx's historical materialism is a technologically deterministic theory, in which the economic relations of production are functionally explained by the material forces of production, and in which the political and legal institutions (the "superstructure") are functionally explained by the relations of production (the "base"). The transition from one mode of production to another is driven by the tendency of the productive forces to develop. Cohen accounts for this tendency by reference to the rational character of the human species: where there is the opportunity to adopt a more productive technology and thus reduce the burden of labour, human beings will tend to take it. Thus, human history can be understood as a series of rational steps that increase human productive power.
At the same time as Cohen was working on Karl Marx's Theory of History, American economist John Roemer was employing neoclassical economics in order to try to defend the Marxist concepts of exploitation and class. In his A General Theory of Exploitation and Class (1982), Roemer employed rational choice and game theory in order to demonstrate how exploitation and class relations may arise in the development of a market for labour. Roemer would go on to reject the idea that the labour theory of value was necessary for explaining exploitation and class. Value was in principle capable of being explained in terms of any class of commodity inputs, such as oil, wheat, etc., rather than being exclusively explained by embodied labour power. Roemer was led to the conclusion that exploitation and class were thus generated not in the sphere of production but of market exchange. Significantly, as a purely technical category, exploitation did not always imply a moral wrong (see section Justice below).
Rational choice Marxism
By the mid-1980s, "analytical Marxism" was being recognised as a "paradigm". The September group had been meeting for several years, and a succession of texts by its members were published. Several of these appeared under the imprint of Cambridge University Press's series "Studies in Marxism and Social Theory", including Jon Elster's Making Sense of Marx (1985) and Adam Przeworski's Capitalism and Social Democracy (1985). Among the most methodologically controversial were these two authors, and Roemer, due to their use of rational-actor models. Not all analytical Marxists are rational-choice Marxists, however.
Elster's account was an exhaustive examination of Marx's texts in order to ascertain what could be salvaged out of Marxism employing the tools of rational choice theory and methodological individualism (which Elster defended as the only form of explanation appropriate to the social sciences). His conclusion was that – contra Cohen – no general theory of history as the development of the productive forces could be saved. Like Roemer, he also rejected the labour theory of value and, going further, virtually all of Marxian economics. The "dialectical" method is rejected as a form of Hegelianobscurantism. The theory of ideology and revolution continued to be useful to a certain degree, but only once they had been purged of their tendencies to holism and functionalism and established on the basis of an individualist methodology and a causal or intentional explanation.
Przeworski's book uses rational choice and game theory in order to demonstrate that the revolutionary strategies adopted by socialists in the twentieth century were likely to fail, since it was in the rational interests of workers to strive for the reform of capitalism through the achievement of union recognition, improved wages and living conditions, rather than adopting the risky strategy of revolution. Przeworski's book is clearly influenced by economic explanations of political behaviour advanced by thinkers such as Anthony Downs (An Economic Theory of Democracy, 1957) and Mancur Olson (The Logic of Collective Action, 1965).
The analytical (and rational choice) Marxists held a variety of leftist political sympathies, ranging from communism to reformist social democracy. Through the 1980s, most of them began to believe that Marxism as a theory capable of explaining revolution in terms of the economic dynamics of capitalism and the class interests of the proletariat had been seriously compromised. They were largely in agreement that the transformation of capitalism was an ethical project. During the 1980s, a debate had developed within Anglophone academia about whether Marxism could accommodate a theory of justice. This debate was clearly linked to the revival of normative political philosophy after the publication of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971). Some commentators remained hostile to the idea of a Marxist theory of justice, arguing that Marx saw "justice" as little more than a bourgeois ideological construct designed to justify exploitation by reference to reciprocity in the wage contract.
The analytical Marxists, however, largely rejected this point of view. Led by G. A. Cohen (a moral philosopher by training), they argued that a Marxist theory of justice had to focus on egalitarianism. For Cohen, this meant an engagement with moral and political philosophy in order to demonstrate the injustice of market exchange, and the construction of an appropriate egalitarian metric. This argument is pursued in Cohen's books, Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality (1995) and If You're an Egalitarian How Come You're So Rich? (2000b).
Cohen departs from previous Marxists by arguing that capitalism is a system characterised by unjust exploitation not because the labour of workers is "stolen" by employers, but because it is a system wherein "autonomy" is infringed and which results in a distribution of benefits and burdens that is unfair. In the traditional Marxist account, exploitation and injustice occur because non-workers appropriate the value produced by the labour of workers. This would be overcome in a socialist society where no class would own the means of production and be in a position to appropriate the value produced by labourers. Cohen argues that underpinning this account is the assumption that workers have "rights of self-ownership" over themselves and thus, should "own" what is produced by their labour. Because the worker is paid a wage less than the value he or she creates through work, the capitalist is said to extract a surplus-value from the worker's labour, and thus to steal part of what the worker produces, the time of the worker and the worker's powers.
Cohen argues that the concept of self-ownership is favourable to Rawls's difference principle as it ensures "each person's rights over his being and powers" — i.e. that one is treated as an end always and never as a means — but also highlights that its centrality provides for an area of common ground between the Marxist account of justice and the right-libertarianism of Robert Nozick. However, much as Cohen criticises Rawls for treating people's personal powers as just another external resource for which no individual can claim desert, so does he charge Nozick with moving beyond the concept of self-ownership to his own right-wing "thesis" of self-ownership. In Cohen's view, Nozick's mistake is to endow people's claims to legitimately acquire external resources with the same moral quality that belongs to people's ownership of themselves. In other words, proprietarianism allows inequalities to arise from differences in talent and differences in external resources, but it does so because it assumes that the world is "up for grabs", that it can be justly appropriated as private property, with virtually no restriction(s).
Analytical Marxism received criticism from a number of different quarters, both Marxist and non-Marxist.
A number of critics argued that analytical Marxism proceeded from the wrong methodological and epistemological premises. While the analytical Marxists dismissed "dialectically oriented" Marxism as "bullshit", others maintain that the distinctive character of Marxist philosophy is lost if it is understood "non-dialectically". The crucial feature of Marxist philosophy is that it is not a reflection in thought of the world, a crude materialism, but rather an intervention in the world concerned with human praxis. According to this view, analytical Marxism wrongly characterizes intellectual activity as occurring in isolation from the struggles constitutive of its social and political conjuncture, and at the same time does little to intervene in that conjuncture. For dialectical Marxists, analytical Marxism eviscerated Marxism, turning it from a systematic doctrine of revolutionary transformation into a set of discrete theses that stand or fall on the basis of their logical consistency and empirical validity.
Analytical Marxism's non-Marxist critics also raised methodological objections. Against Elster and the rational choice Marxists, Carver argued that methodological individualism was not the only form of valid explanation in the social sciences, that functionalism in the absence of micro-foundations could remain a convincing and fruitful mode of inquiry, and that rational choice and game theory were far from being universally accepted as sound or useful ways of modelling social institutions and processes.
Cohen's defence of a technological determinist interpretation of historical materialism was, in turn, quite widely criticised, even by analytical Marxists. Together with Andrew Levine, Wright argued that in attributing primacy to the productive forces (the development thesis), Cohen overlooked the role played by class actors in the transition between modes of production. For the authors, it was forms of class relations (the relations of production) that had primacy in terms of how the productive forces were employed and the extent to which they developed. It was not evident, they claimed, that the relations of production become "fetters" once the productive forces are capable of sustaining a different set of production relations. Likewise, Cornell political philosopher Richard W. Miller, while sympathetic with Cohen's analytical approach to Marxism, rejected Cohen's technological interpretation of historical materialism, to which he counterpoised with what he called a "mode of production" interpretation which placed greater emphasis on the role of class struggle in the transition from one mode of production to another. The Greek philosopher Nicholas Vrousalis generalized Miller's critique, pointing out that Cohen's distinction between the material and social properties of society cannot be drawn as sharply as Cohen's materialism requires.
Other non-Marxist critics argued that Cohen, in line with the Marxist tradition, underestimated the role played by the legal and political superstructure in shaping the character of the economic base. Finally, Cohen's anthropology was judged dubious: whether human beings adopt new and more productive technology is not a function of an ahistorical rationality, but depends on the extent to which these forms of technology are compatible with pre-existing beliefs and social practices. Cohen recognised and accepted some, though not all, of these criticisms in his History, Labour, and Freedom (1988).
Roemer's version of the cause of change in the mode of production as due to being inequitable rather than inefficient is also the source of criticism. One such criticism is that his argument relies of the legal ownership of production which is only present in later forms of class society rather than the social relations of production.
Justice and power
Many Marxists[weasel words] would argue that Marxism cannot be understood as a theory of justice in the sense intended by the analytical Marxists. The question of justice cannot be seen in isolation from questions of power, or from the balance of class forces in any specific conjuncture. Non-Marxists may employ a similar criticism in their critique of liberal theories of justice in the Rawlsian tradition. They argue that the theories fail to address problems about the configuration of power relations in the contemporary world, and by so doing appear as little more than exercises in logic. "Justice", on this view, is whatever is produced by the assumptions of the theory. It has little to do with the actual distribution of power and resources in the world.
- ^ Acton, H. B. (1955). The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed, Cohen and West.
- ^ Cohen 2000a.
- ^ Cohen, G.A. (1978), ix. Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-827196-4.
- ^ Miller 1996.
- ^ Roemer 1986.
- ^ Veneziani 2010.
- ^ Wood 2004.
- ^ Cohen 1995.
- ^ Cohen 1995.
- ^ Carver and Thomas 1995; Roberts 1997.
- ^ Levine and Wright 1980.
- ^ Miller 1984.
- ^ Vrousalis 2015.
- ^ Carter 1988.
- ^ Hirst 1985.
- ^ Wood 2004.
- Acton, H. B. (1955) The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed, Cohen and West.
- Carter, A. (1988) Marx: A Radical Critique. Boulder: Westview Press. ISBN 0-7108-0449-0
- Carver, T. and Thomas, P. (eds.) (1995) Rational Choice Marxism. London: MacMillan. ISBN 0-271-01463-6
- Cohen, G. A. (1978) Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-691-02008-6
- Cohen, G. A. (1988) History, Labour, and Freedom: Themes from Marx. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824816-4
- Cohen, G. A. (1995) Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-47751-4
- Cohen, G. A. (2000a) Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (Expanded Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924206-2
- Cohen, G. A. (2000b) If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich? Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00218-0
- Elster, J. (1985) Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29705-2
- Elster, J. (1986) An Introduction to Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-33831-X
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- Levine, A. and Wright, E. O. (1980) 'Rationality and Class Struggle[permanent dead link]', New Left Review 123.
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- Miller, D. (1996) London Review of Books, October 31, 1996.
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- Przeworski, A. (1985) Capitalism and Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26742-0
- Roberts, M. (1996) Analytical Marxism: A Critique. London: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-855-9
- Roemer, J. (1982) A General Theory of Exploitation and Class. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-674-34440-5
- Roemer, J. (ed.) (1986) Analytical Marxism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.0-521-31731-2
- Tarrit, F. (2006) 'A Brief History, Scope and Peculiarities of "Analytical Marxism"', Review of Radical Political Economics 38.4.
- Van Parijs, P. (1993) Marxism Recycled. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 2-7351-0536-9
- Veneziani, R. (2010) 'Analytical Marxism'. Journal of Economic Surveys 26, 649-73.
- Vrousalis, N. (2015) The Political Philosophy of G.A. Cohen. London: Bloosmbury. ISBN 1-472-52828-X
- Wood, A. (2004) Karl Marx. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31698-7
- Wright, E. O. (2003) 'Autobiographical Essay', in Stephen Turner and Alan Sica (eds.), A Disobedient Generation. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. ISBN 0-7619-4275-0
- Erik Olin Wright, Interrogating Inequality: Essays on Class Analysis, Socialism and Marxism, Verso, 1994, Ch. 8: "What is Analytical Marxism?"
- Nicolas Vrousalis, Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, Oxford University Press, 2016 "Analytical Marxism"
Structural Marxism was an approach to Marxist philosophy based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French philosopher Louis Althusser and his students. It was influential in France during the 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside France during the 1970s. Other proponents of structural Marxism were the sociologistNicos Poulantzas and the anthropologistMaurice Godelier. Many of Althusser's students broke with structural Marxism in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Structural Marxism arose in opposition to the humanistic Marxism that dominated many western universities during the 1970s. In contrast to Humanistic Marxism, Althusser stressed that Marxism was a science that examined objective structures, and he believed that humanistic, historistic and phenomenological Marxism, which was based on Marx's early works, was caught in a "pre-scientific humanistic ideology".
Toward the middle of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, Marxist theorists began to develop structuralist Marxist accounts of the state, law, and crime. Structuralist Marxism disputes the instrumentalist view that the state can be viewed as the direct servant of the capitalist or ruling class. Whereas the instrumentalist position argues that the institutions of the state are under the direct control of those members of the capitalist class in positions of state power, the structuralist perspective takes the position that the institutions of the state must function in such a way as to ensure ongoing viability of capitalism more generally. Another way that Marxists put this is that the institutions of the state must function so as to reproduce capitalist society as a whole. The Miliband-Poulantzas debate between instrumentalist Ralph Miliband and structuralist Nicos Poulantzas characterized the debate between structural and instrumental Marxists.
Structuralists view the state in a capitalist mode of production as taking a specifically capitalist form, not because particular individuals are in powerful positions, but because the state reproduces the logic of capitalist structure in its economic, legal, and political institutions. Hence, from a structuralist perspective one would argue that the institutions of the state (including its legal institutions) function in the long-term interests of capital and capitalism, rather than in the short term interests of members of the capitalist class. Structuralists would thus argue that the state and its institutions have a certain degree of independence from specific elites in the ruling or capitalist class.
Long- versus short-term class interests
Structural Marxism posits that the state functions to serve the long-term interests of the capitalist class. Building upon the works of Engels and Lenin, structural Marxists posit the idea that the state is a mechanism for regulating class conflict, the irreconcilable tension between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. By regulating these antagonisms rather than eliminating them—which Lenin thought was impossible without violent revolution—the state serves to stabilize the capitalist system as a whole and preserve its existence.
Structuralists differentiate between the long-term and short-term interests of the capitalist class in order to describe the necessity of the state to the capitalism system. Short-term interests of the bourgeoisie include policies that affect capital accumulation in the immediate future such as tax breaks, reduced minimum wages, government subsidies, etc. They maintain that when the state is not benefiting the bourgeois class’ short-term interests, it is acting on the behalf of its future interests. Accordingly, when the state seems to act on behalf of the proletariat rather than the bourgeoisie (raising minimum wages, increasing rights of workers’ unions, etc.) it is serving capitalist interests by meeting the demands of workers only enough to prevent an uprising that could threaten the system as a whole. Because the interests of the proletariat and the capitalist classes are counter to one another, the state is necessary to regulate the capitalist system and assure its preservation by forcing capitalists to agree to demands of workers to which they otherwise would not succumb.
In a 1971 paper for Socialist Register, Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski undertook a detailed critique of structural Marxism, arguing that the concept was seriously flawed on three main points:
- I will argue that the whole of Althusser's theory is made up of the following elements : 1. common sense banalities expressed with the help of unnecessarily complicated neologisms; 2. traditional Marxist concepts that are vague and ambiguous in Marx himself (or in Engels) and which remain, after Althusser's explanation, exactly as vague and ambiguous as they were before; 3. some striking historical inexactitudes.
Kołakowski further argued that, despite Althusser's claims of scientific rigor, structural Marxism was unfalsifiable and thus unscientific, and was best understood as a quasi-religious ideology. In 1980, sociologist Axel van den Berg described Kołakowski's critique as "devastating," proving that "Althusser retains the orthodox radical rhetoric by simply severing all connections with verifiable facts."
Similar arguments have been made concerning structural theories of the capitalist nature of the state. Claus Offe averred that the class-character of the state could only be observed in an ex post perspective. In other words, the class character of the state can only be shown after policies are put in place and the outcome is observed. Because of this, he criticizes structural theories which attempt to prove the capitalist character of the state, claiming they do so on an unfounded basis: because outcomes of the state's policies are empirically capitalist, it does not make the State a capitalist enterprise in its nature.: 45–46
- ^Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and Philosophy. In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. NY: Monthly Review Press.
- ^Heine Andersen and L. B. Kaspersen (ed.). Classical and Modern Social Theory, Blackwell publishers, Oxford, 2000.
- ^Poulantzas, N. & Miliband R. (1972). The Problem of the Capitalist State. In R. Blackburn (ed.) Ideology in Social Science: Readings in Critical Social Theory. NY: Pantheon Books, pp. 238–262.
- ^ abLenin, V.I. (2004/1917). The State and Revolution. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing.
- ^ abcOffe, Claus (1974). Structural Problems of the Capitalist State: Class Rule and the Political System. In Klaus von Beyme (ed.) German Political Studies, vol. 1. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publishing.
- ^Kołakowski, Leszek (1971), "Althuser's Marx". Socialist Register 1971, pp. 111–28.
- ^Van den Berg, Axel (1980). "Critical Theory: Is There Still Hope?" The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 86 No. 3 (Nov 1980), pp. 449–478.