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July 10, 2009


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Mainstream science and Scientology have also converged.

Like physicists and electrical engineers, Scientologists use Wheatstone Bridges:


and they share the skepticism of many scientists about the effectiveness of popular psychoactive drugs in treating mental health problems:


This is because both scientists and Scientologists see the truth.


Sorry, PG - I don't see the analogy.
The points of convergence I've described are neither trivially true nor incidental parts of Marxism.
For example, the non-Marxist left spent much of the 80s denying the importance of economic forces - hence its ignorance of economics as regularly displayed in the Guardian. The fact that crime has economic causes (in part) is news to moralizers who want to understand a little less and condemn more, in John Major's phrase.
And the possibility that support for capitalism rests in part upon non-rational factors is surely controversial.
Also, these are examples of orthodox social science corroborating Marx's hypotheses, not of Marxists twisting existing social science.
A better analogy would be if mainstream science were to find lots of evidence in favour of dianetics.


It ain’t about methodology alone Chris. Marxism – or indeed any most other forms of political economy – would not accept, in an unqualified way, the statement that ‘A large part of social change is a reaction to technological progress in the economy. Technological progress affects society‘s consumption and production possibilities. It therefore changes individuals‘ incentives to abide by social customs and mores’.

Most political economists that I’ve read (I’ll readily admit I’m no expert, but I do attempt to keep up..) would reject this because it is technologically reductive: they would see existing social relations also shaping the development of technology. (e.g. those everlasting light bulbs we’ve always heard do much about but have never been able to buy, or indeed the current struggle to retain established property rights in the e-world that has given us iTunes rather than music which is both free and legal...).

It’s true that Marx identified defined the moment of epochal change – a shift in the mode of production - as being when the forces of production come into irreconcilable conflict with the relations of production.

But such moments are by definition rare in human history. More commonly, as Engels wrote to Bloch in 1890:

“ According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form......

Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-á-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles, and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent "Marxists" from this reproach, for the most amazing rubbish has been produced in this quarter, too....”

Arin D

one other piece - cognitive dissonance can be a critical micro-behavioral component in understanding the creation and mainatainance of ideology. confronted with a negative shock (say in income), i can either change my actions (get pissed off, argue with my boss), or change my preferences/beliefs ( "well, this is a difficult time for everyone, hey we all want the business to succeed even if it means my getting shafted a bit"). the way we do the latter is squarely in the realm of cognitive dissonance - resolve it by changing beliefs/preferences instead of action.


@ Charlie - I wasn't attributing to Marx or conventional economists the notion that the relation between technology and social relations runs only one way.
Marx's point that property relations can be "fetters" upon the productive forces clearly acknowledges that the causality can run the other way. And all neoclassical economists would concur.
Nor is anyone saying that the economic element is the only determining one. Note Greenwood's qualification "a large part", Marx's use of the word "conditions" rather than "determines", and my word "influences", rather than "determines."


Yes, there is one essential difference - Marxism is the cold hand of the state, the jackboot on the neck of society, whereas orthodox economics allows one to breathe.


Whereas, as Dsquared says, the invisible hand doesn't leave any fingerprints.


Staus quo bias would lead one to rationalize whatever system they're in, including a Marxist one. And insofar as 'capitalist' countries are really 'mixed economies,' this bias is simultaneously rationalizing regulation and the welfare state.


@james higham
"Marxism is the cold hand of the state, the jackboot on the neck of society, whereas orthodox economics allows one to breathe."
Not only absurdly idealogical, but about as welcome and useful as farting in church. However, it does rather indicate that "orthodox economics" - by which I take it you mean Chicago school free marketism - is as scientific, rational and relevant to real life as, say, Scientology.


Gentlemen - I think we are confusing theory with practice here.... Marxist theory as used in sociology and economics is not the same as (leninist-) marxist policy which does involve the cold hand of the state.

Marxist theory is simply another framework for trying to explain economic and social change and behaviour. Of course it has its imperfections just like any other quasi-economic theory (libertarianism, monetarism, keynesianism, freudianism et al)...

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Note Greenwood's qualification "a large part", Marx's use of the word "conditions" rather than "determines", and my word "influences", rather than "determines."

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