Class and Civil Society: The Limits of Marxian Critical Theory

By Jean L. Cohen | Go to book overview

Chapter 6 System and Class: The Subversion of Emancipation

It should be clear to the contemporary reader of Capital that Marx's critique of political economy analyzes and unfolds economic categories in abstraction from cultural, political, and social determinations. But those who argue that this abstraction is simply a methodological device to consider the general system logic of capitalist accumulation in its ideal purity avoid the real issue. Behind the far from innocent methodology is the presupposition that, unlike past social formations, capitalism systematically incorporates a reproductive logic that could be grasped in terms of a historically new phenomenon: a unified, socialized economy. Neither the attempt to present the reproductive logic of the capitalist system nor the choice of political economy as ideology-parexcellence, and hence as the object of critique, is haphazard or simply methodological. Rather, the theoretical reproduction of the logic of capitalism through the critique of the categories of political economy implies that the critic of political economy has inherited its most basic proposition—that the capitalist economy can be analyzed as a self- sufficient, albeit contradictory, system, with its own internal dynamics and reproductive mechanisms. The implications of this assumption for Marx's class theory and the difficulties it poses for the project of immanent critique and the theory of revolution will be the focus of this chapter.

Marx implicitly abandons the theory of historical materialism in his mature critique of political economy by distinguishing between the historical genesis and the system logic of capitalism. With the restriction of the forces/relations dynamic to the internal dialectic of capitalism, the theory of history gives way to a comprehensive analysis of one mode of production: capitalism. One might therefore imagine that a reformulation of the theory of class and class struggle in the context

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