Friday, January 19, 2007

Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat

If you grow up in a capitalist society, like the United States, you will be inclined to all sorts of odd beliefs, about human nature, laws of economics, and earning one's pay, for example. These beliefs will condition how you feel about, for example, labor unions. Academic economics is an expression of this tendency. As such, the best it can be, without a lot of pushback from within and without, is confused. Since it is confused, one can find self-contradictions in its teachings, and one will find which theoretical trends are marginalized and which are valorized have little to do with the worth of their contents. (Note that one can argue about specific self-contradictions and the worth of specific trends independently of one's opinions about the above claims.)

I suggest that one can find some such claims in some of the texts of Karl Marx. And those specific texts are still worth exploring. I refer to, for example:
  • The Poverty of Philosophy (I suppose specifically, Chapter II, The Metaphysics of Political Economy, is a more narrow reference)
  • The distinction between "Classical political economy" and "Vulgar political economy" in the author's preface to the second edition of Capital
  • Capital, Volume 1, Part 1, Chapter I, Section 4: The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof
  • Capital, Volume 3, Part Seven: The Revenues and Their Sources
  • Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Addenda: Revenue and Its Sources. Vulgar Political Economy


James said...

Funny example that you give, labor unions. When I was growing up in the US, I thought of labor unions as being mostly involved in organized crime. At the time, I had no beliefs about economic laws or human nature or what not that implied this conclusion. It was only after I had spent time studying economics in the classroom that I softened on unions. I just don't have a very positive view of the laws that force firms to do business with unions. I also don't see how some people can consistently oppose collusion by firms and favor collusion by union members.

In any case, no one claims "Academic economics" to be some sort of coherent belief set, so I wouldn't be surprised to encounter inconsistencies. Academics disagree among themselves. So what?

Robert Vienneau said...

I thank James for his exemplification. I doubt there are any laws in the US that force anybody to do business with unions. I don't see how one would coherently go from "self-contradictions" to "Academics disagree".

radek said...

If you grow up in a capitalist society

Yeah, and if you grew up in a socialist society, it's even worse.

Anonymous said...

What was the point of that post, radek?

radek said...

Robert seems to suggest that possesing "odd beliefs" regarding "human nature" and "laws of economics" is a function of growing up in a capitalist society (the rest of that logical syllogism makes too little sense to me for me to even comment upon). Welp, if the metric here is what I think it is, than those of us who did not grow up in capitalist societies have beliefs regarding human nature and laws of economics which are even odder.

Anonymous said...


I do not understand your affinity for Marx. You chastise neoclassical economics for invalid logic but then cite Marx as a counterexample.

The same Marx who built his system on the dialectic, the denial of the principle of the excluded middle. The center piece of logical reasoning itself.

Now, neoclassical economics may have its problems, and I enjoy your critiques. But, Marx? I think you do yourself a great disservice claiming his work to be a valid alternative.

That isn't to say Marx wasn't correct about any specific proposition, but if you demand logical reasoning from one system, then I would hope that you would demand it from other systems. Whether they agree with you a priori or not.

Robert Vienneau said...

I was partly inspired in my original post by Max Sawicky's brouhaha with Markos. I had already worked an allusion to Fanon into one of my posts before reading Max. So I thought I would work in an allusion to Lukacs. Maybe I'll go on with Max's reading list.

The title of my post is the title of the central essay in History and Class Consciousness. I probably don't recall this essay at all well. Lukacs also described a vulgar Marxism. Somehow, though, I don't think Radek wants to agree with that point.

One might object to my allusion to Lukacs in that, although I provide an extremely rough precis of an approach to sociology of economics, I don't include elements of historical materialism. That was deliberate, even though I'm open to other opinions on this point.

I don't see myself as a Marxist, or uncritically recommending his work as a valid alternative. It is not clear to me that one needs to accept the dialectic to analyze his work. Anyways, it should be clear that one interested in Sraffa is going to have some interest in interpretations of classical economics and of Marxism. Lots of different perspectives can be adopted to these topics. For example, the consistency among all my references here is not clear. But I see no a priori reason to rule out scholarship ahead of time.