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February 28, 2019


Mickey Mouse

I think this is missing a bit about the context in which this strain of Marxism arose, as well as a general obscuration of all non-white male Marxists active both at this time, prior, and afterwards (if you believe in time). This was a contentious time in lefty academia, where you had to pick a side: Foucault or Marx. No combining, the teams had been declared. So the analytical Marxist movement arose in relation to Foucault’s, well, Foucault-ness and thus tried to be more quantitative and methodologically based in hopes of being more, frankly, easily understood than any part of On The Order Of Things. Your statement that this saved Marxism from its beliefs in ‘goodies versus baddies’ or its refusal to acknowledge that ‘our objection to capitalism is systemic, not that it is run by bad people’ is I think a bit off, because those have been tenants of this system of thought since the beginning. I think you may be pulling from Eric Olin Wright’s work here, who just loved dividing up class positions into ever expanding categories (I think he gets up to 64 in Class Counts (1997)) which helps to obscure some of the more concrete points of Marx and conflict theory in general: no matter how many orgs there are, we can aggregate to a minimum of two sides for every conflict and these sides often if not always break down around class lines. Likewise important to note you only cited white men, when this same muddying of the traditional ECONOMIC CLASS ONLY waters was being done by Cedric Robinson with Racial Capitalism (1981) as well as the emerging Maoist addition to revolutionary theory via various non-binary class positions (Smith, 2013), not to mention the Combahee River Collective (1983) and eventually Patricia Hill Collins’ (1990) work showing the interconnected and compounding nature of each aspect of an individual’s identity within the societal (cool phrase incoming) MATRIX OF DOMINATION. Much better phrase than intersectionality, but the latter is much easier to co-op.

Your second point again I think is a strawman and ahistorical. Praxis and Theory have always been tied together in Marxist thought. It was the whole point of Marxism, grounding praxis in theory and theory in praxis because up until that point, “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it” (Marx & Engels, 1888). Not to mention a complete unacknowledgement of the Black Liberation Movement’s focus on providing material needs as a means of both gaining trust of the people and growing their numbers, with the most prominent example being the Black Panther Party’s survival programs (West, 2010). Likewise, this had been done from the late 1800s to the 1930s too, with Communist orgs setting up everything from sporting events, dances, gun clubs, and effectively designing an entire new society rather than attempting to “achieve change simply by protesting or by demanding people become more like yourself”. Plus, at the very least, the process you describe of “need[ing] to know why people act as they do” is the foundations of Maoist revolutionary praxis via what was termed “The Mass Line” (Tse-Tung, 2013) which, again, was most famously practiced by the BPP among others.

I will give you the third point, to some extent, but a large pitfall of this strain of Marxism is its attempt to quantify class relations using things like Class Consciousness indexes and the like (Wright, 1997 - I just revisited thus I'm going to use it as a bit of a strawman, apologies!). The ability to and even futility of attempting to quantitatively measure the structure itself has been called into question. Not only is our ability to measure tainted by our own relative class positions, as well as the dominant ideology of the Heteronormative, Racial, Capital, Patriarchal, etc. State (Zuberi & Silva, 2008) but likewise when we attempt to measure the structure, all we are actually measuring is the habitus of what we are attempting to find, or rather the “structuring structure which organizes our practices and the perception of practices” (Bordieu, p. 170, 1984). While measuring the results of societal structure, for instance the placement of police in schools or the drivers of when police kill citizens, helps to show how those structures result in suffering, whether we even should be doing these lofty quantifications in attempts to measure the structure itself is still up for debate. Plus, I would contend, that this focus on methodology and quantification somewhat loses sight of why people came to Marxism in the first place: the focus on deep, humanistic responsibility we feel for ending suffering of every individual brought on by a totalizing and oppressive system to be destroyed with the utmost haste. All methodologies will fall short in its attempt to measure that.

Work Cited (I am very bored at work)

Bourdieu, P. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Massachussets; Harvard University Press,1984. Print.

Collective, Combahee River. "The Combahee river collective statement." Home girls: A Black feminist anthology (1983): 264-74.

Collins, Patricia Hill. "Black feminist thought in the matrix of domination." Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (1990): 221-238.

Tse-Tung, Mao, and Mao Zedong. Quotations from chairman Mao Tse-tung. Chapter 11: The Mass Line. Read Books Ltd, 2013.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. "Theses on Feuerbach, 1888." It is available at http://www. marxists. org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses. htm (1969).

Robinson, Cedric. "Racial Capitalism." (1981).

Smith, Aminda M. (2013). "Thought Reform and the Unreformable: Reeducation Centers and the Rhetoric of Opposition in the Early People's Republic of China". The Journal of Asian Studies. 72 (4): 937–958.

West, Cornel. The Black Panther Party: service to the people programs. UNM Press, 2010.

Wright, Erik Olin. "Class counts." (1997).

Zuberi, Tukufu, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, eds. White logic, white methods: Racism and methodology. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.

Handy Mike

"Kahneman and Tversky’s cognitive biases programme has vindicated and deepened Marxian theories of ideology."



"A big part of this project was the attempt to base Marxism upon methodological individualism: the basic unit of analysis is the individual, not classes – although of course individuals are members of classes."

I would have thought that rational choice philosophy is irreconcilable with Marxism. At its root rational choice assumes that people are fundamentally selfish and it naturally fits well with the view of "unlimited wants, limited resources". Marxists believe that people are innately good and fair.

Rational choice assumptions are big criticism of classical and neo-classical economics, both on moral and empirical grounds. There is plenty of psychology, anthropology and sociology to disprove it. Marxits shouldn't go there.


Was Marx an anti-Semite?

Here’s what he wrote in “On the Jewish Question” (1844):

“What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.…. Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man - and turns them into commodities…. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange…. The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general…. the Jewish religion has contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in himself.”

“In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.”

Here’s what he wrote in “The Russian Loan” (1856):

“Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets.”

“… the real work is done by the Jews, and can only be done by them, as they monopolise the machinery of the loan-mongering mysteries by concentrating their energies upon the barter trade in securities… Here and there and everywhere that a little capital courts investment, there is ever one of these little Jews ready to make a little suggestion or place a little bit of a loan. The smartest highwayman in the Abruzzi is not better posted up about the locale of the hard cash in a traveler’s valise or pocket than those Jews about any loose capital in the hands of a trader.”

“… Thus do these loans, which are a curse to the people, a ruin to the holders, and a danger to the governments, become a blessing to the houses of the children of Judah. This Jew organisation of loan-mongers is as dangerous to the people as the aristocratic organisation of landowners… The fortunes amassed by these loan-mongers are immense, but the wrongs and sufferings thus entailed on the people and the encouragement thus afforded to their oppressors still remain to be told.”


@Mickey Mouse

The intersectionality narrative has a massive problem, which even the slowest mind ought to grasp.

As soon as we analyse the relative prosperity of different groups in societies across the world we find minorities who do both better and worse than the average. And the ones who do better have actually been the target of pogroms more often than the ones who do worse. Anti-Semitism in particular has often grown from resentment of disproportionate Jewish success.

The wealthiest man in 12th century England was Aaron of Lincoln; it’s generally agreed he was wealthier than the King. He lent money to fund England’s great gothic cathedrals, including St Albans, Lincoln and Peterborough. But ultimately, if Aaron’s debtors didn’t want to pay him back, they could always incite a mob with pitchforks. One such mob murdered the entire Jewish community of York in 1190. 100 years later Edward I expelled all Jews from England.

Today in the UK, Chinese and Indian Brits are on average wealthier than White Brits; while Bangladeshi and Pakistani Brits are on average poorer. It’s very hard to explain this pattern of disparity purely from White racism, implicit bias or even “matrices of domination”. You wind up having to believe either that Whites modulate their racism to become racist against themselves in the presence of Indians, or that the system set up by Whites systematically discriminates against Whites and in favour of Indians. Both seem implausible.

Ultimately the intersectional narrative isn’t about intellectual coherence. It’s about holding together a disparate coalition by giving them a bogeyman to despise: the cishet White male.


"It’s very hard to explain this pattern of disparity purely from White racism"

Indeed. It maps almost perfectly onto the class de facto allocated to the immigrant group on arrival however. Thus milltown asians and Caribbean blacks imported as an auxiliary proletariat suffer outcomes similar to those of the echt working class whilst those that present as tabula rasa in class terms outperform both proletarianised immigrants and the proletariat itself.

Which is kind of handy for those of us intent on gently suggesting that class rather than whatever designedly unmenacing ersatz(ish) mode of "liberation" the bourgeois are pushing at any given time is the fundamental form of prejudice.

N. N.

"Marxists believe that people are innately good and fair."

What a comment to leave on the blog of a self-declared Marxist who has spent well over a decade explaining countless times in countless posts why this is not the case.


«They are/were as far from the image of Marxists as spittle-flecked fanatics as you’ll get»

That image is largely the result of propaganda, except of course in the case of stalinist spittle-flecked fanatic of brexit, antisemitism, mysognism and racism, J Corbyn. :-)


People would have to be innately good, otherwise a socialist utopia would not be possible. It is capitalism that drives people to be otherwise. I am surprised that any Marxists would want to play on the turf of rational choice. My understanding is that Marxists in political science have largely written about how rational choice approaches are flawed. Underlying this philosophy are assumptions about human nature - greed, selfishness, and in political science and international realtions -importantly- relative vs absolute gains (on the latter Marxists would find themselves curiously on the same side as Idealists, but not those on the Realpolitik side who emphasise the importance of relative gains -ie people and countries are seen to be improving their position relative to others, rather than just being concerned about improving their own welfare). Marxists stress the limitations and dangers of formalism and positivism. This is just my understanding, I am open to other views, and I enjoy reading them.


"A big part of this project was the attempt to base Marxism upon methodological individualism: the basic unit of analysis is the individual, not classes – although of course individuals are members of classes."

This is of course a problem with classical/neo-classical economics. A society is not an aggregation of individuals. The assumption that you can do look at a society this way is at the heart of critiques of mainstream economics. Tony Lawson for example refers to "atomistic and isolationist fallacies". This, and the related question of how rational choice behaviour be justified as the basis of analysis in modern economics are the critical ontological and epistemological questions.



“People would have to be innately good, otherwise a socialist utopia would not be possible. It is capitalism that drives people to be otherwise.”

Are you saying that it was capitalism that made Genghis Khan the way he was? Seems unlikely.

We have data on human behaviour in hunter gatherer societies, pre-capitalists societies, communes, Kibbutzim, religious cults, you name it. Different social arrangements definitely produce different outcomes, because people do respond to incentives. But we don’t see any arrangement basically abolishing human sinfulness.

“A society is not an aggregation of individuals. The assumption that you can look at a society this way is at the heart of critiques of mainstream economics.”

The biggest distinction in how people behave socially is between kin and non-kin. People generally treat their close family members very differently from their business clients. Whether you have good or bad relationships with your parents or children, those relationships don’t usually operate capitalistically.

Even capitalist billionaires typically refrain from behaving capitalistically towards their own children. George Soros made business decisions he knew would result in thousands of people having their homes repossessed. He would never behave like that towards his own children. His son Alexander has three homes, in Manhattan, Berkeley and South Kensington, London.


'You need to offer an alternative, if only as a way of highlighting the flaws in our current system – hence the importance of the real utopias project and van Parijs’s call for a basic income. And you need to know how things might change: Wright’s theory of interstitial (pdf) transformation, for example, appeals to me.'

Yes very good and I agree.I notice though that Wright has only one reference to any form of Land reform/taxation in his monograph.So he and anaylitcal Marxist like you don't get what can really be done with the Georgist alternative to Marx and or don't care? Is this unfair?

I was very interested in the van Parij's paper on CI. I found myself soon wondering what Bill Mitchell et al, would make of the good philosophers worry about the 'funding' problem (ignoring JG). As I read on, I then wondered what other long standing CI supporters like Mark Wandsworth and other, would make of the 'funding' from VAT rather than a LVT (even in those non-MMT terms).

Anyway, these first thoughts were soon washed away as I busrt out laughing with Van's final paragraph about Rumpy Pumies view on this excellent plan! So LVT, CI, JG, not on the EU remainers/ reformers radar and not posssible within the EU: just what are we going to 'reform from within', after we remain?

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