Social Economy: The Logic of Capitalist Development

By Clark Everling | Go to book overview
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Terry Eagleton discusses the pessimism which Perry Anderson has called an abiding feature of Western Marxism (1991:46). My argument in this book is that this pessimism is inherent in conceptions which understand consciousness and human practical activity as constituted through thought and language rather than conceiving practical social activities themselves as prior to and constitutive of thought, language, and consciousness about those social activities. The former approach at once makes socialism a problem of consciousness and separates that consciousness from the practical conditions of its own creation. Consequently, such conceptions of socialism turn upon themselves as problems in thought and language rather than as problems in practice. I examine this problem further in the Appendix.

The pessimism of Western Marxists often is expressed in theories of capitalist development which owe as much to the influence of Martin Heidegger as they do to Marx. Heideggerian Marxism characterizes, especially, the work of the Frankfurt School. In this approach, as exemplified in Herbert Marcuse’s From Luther to Popper, the essence of humanity is taken as something other than human social practical activity in the production and reproduction of human existence. Marx’s concept of “species-being,” for Marcuse, in effect, replaces Heidegger’s concept of “Being,” and the victory of the proletariat is equated with the realization of the human essence.

Because, in this interpretation, the human essence is not realized within the processes of capitalism, and other oppressive forms of development, the further extension of capitalism can bring only intensified oppression. As Mark Gottdeiner discusses, this concept characterizes present-day “Fordist” social theories which observe “the penetration of capitalist social relations into virtually every sphere of daily life, aided by the state and involving commodification of such previously traditional cultural forms of community as the family, health care, education, and so on” (Gottdeiner 1985:209).

In these, and many other theories of Marxism, the working class creates its object only through its own class consciousness and its political unity. As Charles Bettleheim, for example, states: “what is decisive—from the point of view of socialism—is not the mode of ‘regulation’ of the economy, but rather the nature of the class in power. In still other terms, the fundamental question is not whether the ‘market’ or ‘plan’ (therefore also the ‘state’) controls the economy but the nature of the class which holds power” (Sweezy and Bettleheim 1968:44; Bettleheim’s emphasis). But, as I have indicated, these approaches have the result of dividing social practical activity from consciousness and discourse. Moreover, social class and other theoretical categories become absolutized over and against the very activities that provide their form, content, and evolution. Socialism can only be achieved, within these theories, if the proletariat can somehow be brought to consciousness and political unity and then rid itself of a system alien to its own essential character. This concept and task becomes all the more fantastic as capitalism becomes, in these interpretations, more and more defining of every aspect of life and, thus, increasingly disempowers the proletariat in their everyday practical activities. It is to counter these theoretical limitations, and because I believe that these theories misconstrue Marx’s conceptions, including those in his earliest writings, that I argue from very different perspectives in this book.


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Social Economy: The Logic of Capitalist Development


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