Class and Civil Society: The Limits of Marxian Critical Theory

By Jean L. Cohen | Go to book overview

Chapter 5 Historical Genesis and Class

Logic and history: past and present

The premise of this chapter is that the "mature" writings of Marx implicitly break with the theory of historical materialism insofar as the historical genesis and reproductive logic of a social system (capitalism) are now distinguished from on another. 1 In the Grundrisse and Capital, the forces/relations model of the theory of historical materialism is restricted to the internal dynamics of capitalism and reformulated in terms of the wage labor/capital relation. Accordingly, the emphasis shifts from the theory of history to a comprehensive analysis of the logic and limits of one mode of production—capitalism. More important, the "dialectic" is no longer projected onto history as a whole but now appears as the logic only of capitalist society. 2 The implications of this change for the class theory as it relates to the logic and genesis of the capitalist system will be the subject of this and the next chapter. 3

The limitation of the dialectic to the internal dynamics of capitalism is based on Marx's new presupposition that only with capitalism does the economy emerge as a system that tends to penetrate all aspects of society and to recast social relations in its own image and forms. 4 The "primacy the economic," the centrality of production, indeed, the base/superstructure model itself, can be applied, it would seem, only to a system whose logic can be articulated in socioeconomic categories because only such a system tends to subordinate and integrate social and political institutions to its own reproductive schema. Accordingly, in the mature writings, capitalism is analyzed through the historically specific categories of the value theory. A distinction (foreign to the theory of historical materialism) is made between the notion of "production in general" and the historically specific form of capitalist production. Indeed, the most striking fact about the late works is that all

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